Saturday, September 23, 2017

Wanted: A Superhero to Save the World by Bryan Davis // spotlight, interview, giveaways



As promised, I'm coming to you today with a super special post--and yes, it's related to superheroes! Bryan Davis, one of my favorite authors ever, has just released his new middle-grade novel called Wanted--A Superhero to Save the World. I'm excited to get my hands on this fun-looking tale in the near future. In the meantime, I have the privilege of participating in the blog tour! Read on for a peek at the book, an interview with Bryan himself, and details about two super (ahem, pun intended) giveaways.



Eddie Hertz is smart, real smart. He has to be. What other twelve-year-old patrols the streets of Nirvana alone, hoping to foil the schemes of the evil Mephisto? Since Eddie is small for his age, he trusts in his Batman-style gadgets belt and acrobatic skills as well as lots of experience, like knowing how to swing across dark alleys without being seen.

Eddie has a dream, to become like Damocles, Nirvana’s great superhero. To make that dream come true, Eddie invented a device that is supposed to give him superpowers, but using it on himself is dangerous, maybe even fatal. He doesn’t have the nerve to try it.

When Mephisto unleashes an earthquake machine on the city, Eddie gets a surprising teammate — his quirky eight-year-old sister, Samantha, who comes up with an unexpected way to help Eddie in the frantic battle to prevent the biggest earthquake of all.

Since Damocles has lost his ability to help in physical form, Eddie and Samantha are the only hope for Nirvana and the world.


(Available on Amazon)


Interview with Bryan Davis


Tracey: Most of your books are Young Adult. Did you encounter any challenges while venturing into Middle Grade territory?

Bryan: The biggest issue for me was reader targeting. I looked over some current middle-grade offerings and found that they spanned quite a range with regard to simplicity versus complexity in both story and vocabulary, also in the level of seriousness versus silliness.

Because of this wide range, I decided to imagine my characters and write what felt right based on my own experiences with seven children. The story includes a blend of seriousness and quirkiness, and the vocabulary will stretch some readers, though I hope the context will allow them to figure out the words.


Tracey: What might attract some of your YA readers to Wanted, despite the fact it’s labelled below their age group?

Bryan: My YA readers will recognize my usual desire to portray sacrificial heroism and the growth of relationships. There are enough situations and dynamics that only older readers will truly understand, which makes it an intriguing read for YA as well as middle-grade readers. I think older readers will also enjoy the humor.


Tracey: I've been hearing great reviews from YA friends already! Considering this is a superhero story, I have to ask: do you prefer Marvel or DC?

Bryan: Frankly, I don’t like either superhero universe, with the exception of Captain America, though I have heard they are trying to take even him to the dark side.


Tracey: Who is your favorite superhero in your preferred franchise?

Bryan: As I mentioned above, I like Captain America. I always enjoy a hero who is virtuous and sacrificial while still being caring and kind.


Tracey: Amen to that. What’s the best novel you’ve read this year?

Bryan: I read Till We Have Faces for the fifth time. I have a hard time finding recent novels that I enjoy, so I often go back and reread novels I know I will like.


Tracey: As a writer, where do you get your inspiration?

Bryan: I get inspiration from dreams, my children, everyday life, and other stories. Several of my novels had their origin in dreams, including Raising Dragons, I Know Why the Angels Dance, and Let the Ghosts Speak. Regarding other stories, whenever someone else’s story really hits me hard, I analyze it to see what creates the impact. I don’t want to copy the story at all. I just want to know what gives it that punch in the gut. What aspect reaches the heart? When I figure it out, I try to do the same in my story without copying the other story’s device.




Tracey: Writing being a form of self-expression, many authors put parts of their own personality, quirks, or struggles into their characters. You may or may not have done this, but regardless—which of your characters is the most like you?

Bryan: From Dragons in our Midst, Professor Hamilton reflects my analytical side, Jared Bannister reveals my fatherly side, and a trio of females, Bonnie Silver, Sapphira, and Acacia display my spiritual ideals. Last but not least, from Tales of Starlight, Adrian Masters lives out my chivalry principles.


Tracey: Ah, SIX of my favorite characters! What’s one mistake you see young writers consistently make, and could you share some advice on how to avoid/correct it?

Bryan: The most common mistake I see is in how they develop the characters and story world early on. Some jump right into the intense action before developing the characters and story world, which disconnects readers since they don’t know the characters well enough to care about them during the action.

Some young writers dump loads of information about the back story without progressing the main story at all. I see that problem most often with dialogue dumping, that is, having two or more characters talking for several paragraphs, thereby revealing past events. Yet, nothing really happens except for dialogue and maybe a smattering of interior monologue.

The best approach is to give the main character something to do, a goal to achieve no matter how small, then have that character go about the business of getting it done while giving readers clues regarding the back story and the story-world’s environment in a natural way.


Tracey: What was the most enjoyable part of writing Wanted?

Bryan: I enjoyed the blend of seriousness and quirkiness. There are many light-hearted moments to provide comic relief. At the same time our heroes have to suffer through quite a few dangerous sequences while growing in their relationship to each other. The combination of fun and thought-provoking events was a pleasure to write.


Tracey: I can't wait to read it! What are you working on next?

Bryan: I am working on a young adult space adventure tentatively entitled Search for the Astral Dragon. It’s about Megan Willis, a 12-year-old girl who, through a series of strange events, becomes a military space cruiser’s mechanic. Her parents were arrested for space piracy, and Megan was allowed freedom as long as she served under the military ship’s captain. This captain takes her on a mission to find his kidnapped son. She learns later that this captain had ulterior motives for bringing her along, to become bait to draw the kidnappers out from hiding. Yet, the deeper she digs into the secrets, the more she learns how dark the motivations of both the captain and the kidnappers are.

I am also trying to find a publisher for Let the Ghosts Speak, an adult novel that is a combination of historical thriller and supernatural intrigue.


Tracey: I'm definitely looking forward to both of those. Thanks for the great interview!


About the Author



Bryan Davis is the author of the Dragons in Our Midst, Oracles of Fire, Children of the Bard, the Reapers Trilogy, Dragons of Starlight, Tales of Starlight, and the Time Echoes Trilogy, fantasy/science fiction/dystopian novels for youth and adults. His first novel, Raising Dragons, was released in July of 2004, and several books in that series have hit various bestseller lists, including Eye of the Oracle, which hit number one on the CBA Young Adult best-seller list in January of 2007.

Bryan was born in 1958 and grew up in the eastern U.S. From the time he taught himself how to read before school age, through his seminary years and beyond, he has demonstrated a passion for the written word, reading and writing in many disciplines and genres, including theology, fiction, devotionals, poetry, and humor.

Bryan is a graduate of the University of Florida (B.S. in Industrial Engineering). In high school, he was valedictorian of his class and won various academic awards. He was also a member of the National Honor Society and voted Most Likely to Succeed.

Bryan and his wife, Susie, work together as an author/editor team to create his imaginative tales.

Here are some places you'll find this superhero-in-disguise lurking about. Go stalk him and say hello!





Giveaways




By now you must be chomping at the bit to get a copy of Wanted, am I right? Right! The generous author is hosting not one, but TWO giveaways/contests!

#1

Prize: Winner's choice of any Bryan Davis book, plus a Wanted: A Superhero to Save the World t-shirt and bookmark.

How to enter: It's a simple Rafflecopter drawing. a Rafflecopter giveaway

#2


Grand Prize: All the items from #1, PLUS a complete Bryan Davis series of the winner's choice OR a $50 Amazon gift card.

How to enter: This one requires your involvement! Every participating blog has hidden a number in their post. So your job, hero, should you choose to accept it, is to read every post, add all the numbers up, and enter that sum into the giveaway form: a Rafflecopter giveaway There's a lot of great bloggers in this tour--you may want to give them a follow as well!

Speaking of which, you'll find the full list of participating blogs at The Author's Chair right HERE.

Are you looking forward to reading Wanted as much as I am? (Or maybe you've read it already!) Who's your favorite superhero? Remember, as soon as you're done here, head on over to the list of blogs and start adding those numbers! :)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Footnotes // humor & september aesthetic

Do you recall Starting Sparks? It was a link-up by Emily @ Ink, Inc. and Ashley @ [oddly novel title] that I participated in a few times last year. It has since closed down, but now the dynamic duo is back with a new monthly thingamajig called Footnotes! And it's quote themed! (Click on either one of their names to go to their latest Footnotes posts.) Each month, they provide a prompt, and bloggers link up with their posts about a quote related to the prompt.


This month's prompt: a quotation that makes you laugh.


Mr. Gilmer asked him one more question. "About your writing with your left hand, are you ambidextrous, Mr. Ewell?"

"I most positively am not, I can use one hand as good as the other. One hand as good as the other," he added, glaring at the defense table.

--from To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee


I had a grand old time reading TKAM a couple years back, and this is just one of the sections that made me laugh out loud! (Another one involved Scout building a snowman and making some comments that nowadays would be considered racist, but at the time were pretty innocent.)

Speaking of laughing, lately I've been inwardly chuckling at my teachers. Not that they're all comedians (only one of them is of a consistently humorous personality), but after sitting under their tutelage for a couple of weeks, I'm starting to find humor in their various quirks. Like how one nice older lady calls everyone sweetie and has difficulty enlarging YouTube videos to full screen, or how my math and economics teacher pronounces subtraction as "substraction."

In other mundane and unrelated news, autumn has swept in with chilly winds and drizzly skies, making hot tea even more wonderful than it usually is. So here's some pretty fall aesthetic I've been staring at on Pinterest lately.

I think that is one of the best photos I have seen
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Apparently I love foxes. And trees. And books. But what else is new?


Apologies for the brevity of today's post. Next Saturday, I've got something extra special coming your way--it may involve superheroes, but you didn't hear that from me!


So what's making YOU laugh these days? Before I hit publish, here's one last bonus quote that makes me snicker:


The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.
--Albert Einstein

Saturday, September 9, 2017

hey dreamer



hey dreamer
when did your dream become a to-do list?
a series of boxes to be checked?
when did that big, airy wonder
shrivel down to a sheet of paper?


hey dreamer
when did your dream become a memory?
an old photograph?
a distant crackle on the radio
reminding you of long-gone days?


hey dreamer
when did it become a mirage?
a trick of the light?
a shimmer of bitter possibility
in a strangely cold desert of reality?


hey dreamer
when did it become a burden?
a ten-ton weight laid across your shoulders?
a crushing suffocation
measuring your spine and timing your steps?


hey dreamer
when did it become a secret?
a well-worn hideaway?
a crumpled little trinket
you keep in a box hidden under the bed?


hey dreamer


when did the fire in your heart become the fire at your heels?
when did now lose its luster to back then?
when did someday become maybe become never?
when did summer-light wings turn to lead?
when did your banner fray and fade?


hey dreamer


can you tell me when?
tell me why?


i wish you'd remember
recall
recollect
gather up
stir up
cradle close to your chest:


the joy


the joy of the dream that once put a sword in your hand and the stars in your eyes
the wonder of the thing that pulled you around every expectant corner
the beat in your chest so loud and so hard some days that the joy of it all just hurt


hey dreamer . . .
it's still there, you know
you can find it again

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Subplots and Storylines - August 2017



I think I'm stuck in a Donkey Kong game.


You know, where he hops into a barrel cannon, and it shoots him into the next cannon, and that shoots him into the next? That is Donkey Kong, right? (Correct me if I'm wrong.) This whole year has been a series of cannons--all very good ones, though not necessarily all easy--and despite feeling full to the brim, 2017 is only two-thirds done.*


*Pshh, "only." I feel like it should still be April, thank you very much.


But for the most part, August gave me a chance to catch my breath. The day after I returned from Realm Makers, my family and I packed up and headed south of the border again for a week of much-needed vacation at a cabin! It was so, so good to not have anywhere to be, anything to write, or any deadlines to meet. Just wide open hours to swim and kayak in the lake, soak in the sunshine, devour books, eat too much food, stay up too late, and sleep in every morning. Just amazing. And I loved spending all that time with my family!













The next couple weeks were the steady as she goes kind, during which I:


  • tried (and failed) to clean my room
  • took my youngest sister out for fun stuff like riding a tandem bike for the first time ever (we didn't die! and it was so much fun!)
  • had a video chat with a dear friend who lives miles away
  • went to orientation day for college
  • had a campfire with another friend who lives a lot closer but is leaving for university
  • ate fresh corn on the cob from the garden
  • met yet another friend for root beer and a catching up


And now summer feels like it's officially easing into autumn. The days are getting a little cooler already and parts of the garden are being harvested, but the biggest indication that summer is over is this:


I started college this week!


Which is kind of a big deal. I'm adjusting to a new schedule, figuring out how to stuff as much homework as possible into the nooks and crannies of my days, getting to know my teachers, and finally experiencing a public school classroom.*


*Some classes are great. Others feel like a waste of time because hi, I was homeschooled, and I'm used to just reading textbooks for myself, no need to read it to me, thank you, good-bye. Okay, it's not all that bad. Besides, it means less school reading at home later.


Oh, yes, I suppose I should mention this is for a two-year business admin diploma! I sincerely hope to keep up with Adventure Awaits in the meantime. That may mean shorter posts sometimes, or even some Sunday posts instead of Saturdays, but I'll try to keep things as normal and scheduled here as possible.


Subplots on Screen



Mostly rewatches this month!


The Flash season 2 - rewatched three episodes
My family was watching it while at the cabin, so hey, why not join them? I was missing Barry Allen and Co.


Once Upon a Time - rewatched some of season 2 + 3 and finished season 5
My siblings and I are almost through season 2, and with my parents we're well into season 3. But my two sisters and I FINISHED SEASON 5. IT BASICALLY BROKE MY HEART AND PUT IT BACK TOGETHER.


Avatar: The Last Airbender
My sisters pulled me into it, and so far I'm only three or so episodes in. Aang is cute and the episodes are nice and short.


The Maze Runner - rewatch
Also a holiday movie. My sisters had never seen it before, so it was super fun to see it with them and my brother.


Storylines on the Page



books read on holidays


August was a great reading month for me, thanks to vacation!




Ink and Bone // Rachel Caine

Ink and Bone is . . . how to describe it? Aesthetic. Rich. Colorful. Raw. It feels like dusty old books and hot Alexandrian sun and rattling trains and bloody, muddy war. It wasn't the fastest read, but that was okay because I wanted to be immersed like that!


I loved the vaguely steampunk setting, the school aspect, and the way Jess is the son of a black market book smuggler. Instant cool points! Wolfe, the ruthless teacher, was someone I hated at first, then slowly grew to love. I also loved the premise of the library of Alexandria still being around!


Unfortunately, there was a bit of language and one homosexual subplot off to the side that I didn't care for.


Still, I gave the book 4.5 stars! Read my full review on Goodreads HERE.




The Penderwicks // Jeanne Birdsall


This book came highly recommended by several friends, and it did not disappoint!


Think back to your fondest childhood summer, sprinkle it with imagination and adventure, and mix it with a dash of humor and buckets of warm fuzzies. That's pretty much The Penderwicks. Like Peter Pan did for me last summer, it transported me back to childhood in a way that made me smile and want to live at Arundel with these kids just a little longer. Seriously, if you haven't read this yet, GO DO IT.


5 stars! Read my full review on Goodreads HERE.




The Fatal Tree // Stephen Lawhead


The Fatal Tree ended the Bright Empires series differently than I expected, but it was still really, really good. I can say very little without plunging straight into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that:


a) I love the crew, especially Kit, Cass, Mina, Etzel (dear, dear Etzel!), and Gianni.
b) I am endlessly fascinated by this multiverse of ley lines and by the topics this series has examined, such as time, the humongous effect everything and everybody has on everything and everybody else, redemption, human will, and WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE UNIVERSE STARTS TO SHRINK.
c) That beautiful cover.


5 stars! Read my full review on Goodreads HERE.




Some Kind of Happiness // Claire Legrand


I bought this on a whim, and by the time I finished I was a small mess of feelings. Which may have been the point of the whole story. Despite it's title, Some Kind of Happiness deals with a lot of sad topics: depression, cancer, broken families, secrets. (It's labeled MG, but I probably wouldn't give it to a reader that young.) However, it was a powerful, beautifully written story packed with my favorite kind of imagery and grand adventures shared by a pack of rambunctious cousins and their friends.


But to back up a little--the whole premise of this book is amazing. 11-year-old Finley deals with her sadness by writing stories about a place called the Everwood, stories that mirror her own struggles. So it was cathartic and affirming to see how her life inspired her writing, and how her writing, in turn, helped her real life!


4 stars! Read my full review (including my favorite quote from the book) on Goodreads HERE.




The Five Times I Met Myself // James L. Rubart


I actually met Jim Rubart at Realm Makers, and he is one of the kindest, most encouraging authors I've talked to!


The Five Times I Met Myself is a trippy, introspective book dealing with regret and second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances. At first, the concept of Brock's lucid dreaming and actually talking to his younger self was a bit hard to believe, but the concept was so interesting that pretty soon I didn't care. Especially when Brock's attempts to improve his life by getting his younger self to make different decisions start making everything worse.


4.5 stars! Read my full review on Goodreads HERE.


The Beast of Talesend // Kyle Robert Schultz


Another author I met at Realm Makers. You might recognize his name from the Silmarillion Awards this summer, because he hosted the award for Most Incompetent Henchman!


I'd heard great things about The Beast of Talesend as well, the highlight of my friends' reviews definitely being the humor. And it was quite an amusing tale! The dialogue is one of this novella's greatest strengths for sure. I also really liked the 1920's alternate history setting, where fairy tales actually happened long ago, but magic has since faded into obscurity. Except for instances like this one, where Detective Nick Beasley happens to turn into a beast . . . despite the fact he's spent his whole career disproving magic! His brother, Crispin, and the unstoppable Lady Cordelia prove to be entertaining sidekicks on their little quest.


My only quibble would be the writing. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't particularly arresting either, and I found the sentence structure repetitive now and then. Nevertheless, this was a good, quick read! Kind of a fluffy cupcake sort of thing, and--oddly enough--something that reminded me of Adventures in Odyssey radio dramas (even though the two aren't related in the slightest).


3.5 stars! (As of right now, I haven't reviewed this on Goodreads yet.)

Subplots on the Writing Desk



After the intensity of May-July, followed by no writing during vacation, I've been taking it easy in this department. I received an amazing, thought-provoking critique of The Brightest Thread's first chapter at Realm Makers, so I spent my writing time this month brainstorming ways to incorporate that feedback.


I ended up experimenting with chapter one and trying different approaches. My first attempt flopped halfway through. With tea and prayer, I tried again, and it went a lot better . . . though that version of chapter one is really long. Then I wrote yet another version, which was much shorter. I haven't yet decided which approach is best.


But TBT is currently in the hands of betas, so I'll see what they say!


Oh, and I updated my Writings page here on the blog! That was a long overdue change.


I had planned to brainstorm a novella for Five Poisoned Apples in August, but that didn't happen. Hopefully this month! There are only four months left of the contest--yikes.


What about you, valiant adventurers? How was your August? Are you going back to school? What was your best summer memory?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Book Review: Reapers by Bryan Davis

Reapers.



The word conjures images of hoods, scythes, and shadows. Death, ghosts, and the veil between here and eternity.


Reapers by Bryan Davis delivered on pretty much all of the above, minus the scythes. We've got an urban setting, wandering souls, dark alleyways, grit, ethical dilemmas, futuristic tech, and the big dystopian staple: untrustworthy power figures.




Find it on Goodreads // Amazon // author's website
Read chapter one for free HERE.
Two teenagers, Phoenix and Singapore, male and female Reapers, collect the souls of the dead and transport them to the Gateway where they will travel to their final destination . . . or so they are told.


A small note: I read this book back in July (a.k.a the mad rush to finish The Brightest Thread in time for Realm Makers), so it took me longer than usual to finish. I don't like when that happens, because I think it can distort my opinion on the book's pacing.


Reapers started out super interesting, don't get me wrong! (And it's actually funny how I've nearly memorized the first paragraph from all the times I've read it in Bryan Davis's writing how-to blog posts.) We get an engaging first look into Phoenix's everyday world--a mostly solitary life of watching over his Chicago district, collecting souls, and smuggling medicine to the sick and dying in his neighborhood.


But after the first bit, it felt like the story slowed down. We spend four or five chapters following Phoenix, Singapore, and two other Reapers all the way to a Gateway depot and back. Which isn't all bad, because although it was thoroughly detailed, it was necessary detail. Without getting the process of reaping clear in my mind, I think I would've floundered later on in the story. But because everything was meticulously laid out right away, big explanations weren't needed later. So really, I have just a small quibble with that pacing issue.


Once I hit the midway point, the pace really picked up! Big plans, sneaking around, action, danger--yes! I positively sped through the second half of the book. The stakes keep rising, trust issues between characters get shakier, and the tension just all-around builds.


And can we just talk about the concept of reaping for a minute? Because it's a really sad job to have. I wouldn't want to be the one called to every deathbed, the one to sweet-talk confused and wandering ghosts into trusting me, the one to carry the burden of all these souls to the Gateway. Some of these Reapers are pretty epic heroes for doing all that!


Characters



Phoenix: He was great! I'm used to Bryan Davis's noble, heroic protagonists like Billy from Dragons in Our Midst or Adrian Masters from Dragons of Starlight. And Phoenix is noble and heroic. But he's got a grittier side to him as well. It's hard to describe, because it's not as if he runs around making horrible choices . . . He just feels a shade or two darker than the abovementioned characters. But I loved being in his head.


Singapore: Ah, Sing, should I trust you? I couldn't answer that question till I was partway through the book, and that answer wasn't quite what I was expecting. She's a bit of a wild card, that one. Frustratingly inconsistent. Timid and unsure one moment, brash the next. But not to worry, it all makes sense later on! My uncertainty about her added to the tension for sure.


Shanghai: She's kind of incredible. No-nonsense, but still kind. Hugely capable and confident, and pretty much one the best at her job.


Alex: I hate her. But she's the villain, so that's a good thing! She's conniving, clever, and manipulative. Every time Phoenix thought he had her outwitted, she revealed another layer of her plan. And have I mentioned she's ruthless? Seriously, somebody needs to put her away.


Crandyke: Phoenix carries this guy's soul around in his cloak, much to Crandyke's displeasure. He's cranky, sarcastic, but very knowledgeable--so Phoenix isn't too eager to get rid of him right away. Crandyke's witty complaints made for quite a few smirks throughout the story, and it was great to have that dose of humor.


Everyone else lives in Spoiler Land, pretty much, otherwise I'd discuss them too!


[source]


Themes



Going into this book, I was interested to see how a Christian author would deal with the element of "Grim Reapers" and the afterlife. Bryan Davis handled it really well! Reapers lands in mainstream territory, so God isn't talked about, but everything was written tastefully. One question this book asks is, "What if souls didn't go to their eternal destination immediately, but had to be delivered there?" That's the role of the Reapers, but as the plot unfolds, we get the sense that this Gateway the souls go through is not what it seems. That perhaps the public is being fed lies, and perhaps the Gatekeeper is not as virtuous as he makes himself out to be. So now I'm even more curious to see where the next two books take that idea!


In the meantime, Reapers offers solid themes on the value of human life, defending the defenseless, trust, honesty, and the kind of teamwork I've come to expect from a cast of Bryan Davis characters. Again, I sense that this novel is setting things up for fantastic character arcs in the rest of the trilogy!


And unlike many dystopians, this narrative had a thread of hope woven throughout.


Random Things



  • Some of the futuristic tech reminded me of Bryan Davis's The Candlestone! Especially the setup of three special pedestals . . . (Anybody else remember that book?)
  • At times I also got a Hunger Games vibe. I remember noting it, but now I can't remember what exactly made me think of that. Dystopian, teens, themes dealing with death, a villain who's always one step ahead . . . ? I don't know, but it was cool.
  • It was fascinating how bold Phoenix was towards Alex. He basically tells her what he's going to do, stating some of his plans to her face. Considering that most people lie to cover up their plans, I thought it was really interesting to watch this approach play out. You'd think it would be a stupid move, but surprisingly it wasn't. I won't spoil anything, though. You need to read it for yourself!


4.5 stars!



I whittled down half a star because the beginning did move a little slow--but again, that could've been partially my fault for being so busy.


(A note on the content: based on a few grisly moments, several sad/callous deaths, and some romantic tension, I would recommend this for 16 and up, probably.)


Overall, however, Reapers is a shadowy tale uncovering the dark underbelly of a once-trusted institution. It's a tale of risk, a tale of taking a stand when all around everyone else is turning a blind eye. It's got humor, it's got heart, and once you get going, it's a hold-your-breath, edge-of-your-seat kind of ride!


If you're looking for that kind of book, go get yourself a copy of Reapers right this minute! And if you've already read this one, I'll race you to book 2, Beyond the Gateway!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

God in Fantasy Fiction - To Be or Not to Be?

A Forward



About five weeks ago, while slogging through edits on The Brightest Thread, I hit a substantial snag. A capital G snag--God. In the novella version of the story, there was no mention of a deity at all, and I was quite all right with that. (More on that later.) But now that I was fleshing out the storyworld, I was finding it increasingly difficult to deal with


a) magic with no explained source,
b) a vaguely referenced act of creation,
and c) the existence of false gods but no True God.


I avoided the issue for as long as I could. When I was forced to face it head on, I hemmed and hawed, I complained to my family, and then I dumped the contents of my brain into a fresh document, which I promptly sent as an S.O.S.: DESPERATE HELP NEEDED to a writing buddy.


Turns out the brain dump and the following conversation were rather insightful, and probably a topic of interest to both writers and readers.


To Be or Not to Be?



Christian writers get hung up on a lot of things. One of the biggest? God in fiction. Should we include Him or omit Him? If we include Him, how do we keep from being preachy or trite? Will "religion" (for lack of a better term) feature heavily in the story, or will it be a light dose? If we omit God, does that run contrary to our faith, or can it be done in a way that still glorifies Him? Should we even be having this dilemma? Shouldn't it be a question of incorporating our fiction into God, not the other way around?


As you can see, many of us are bound up in fear over getting it right. How can we possibly fit all of God into a finite story? But that’s the thing. We can’t.


Even when writing a human character that literally exists only in your brain, you can't fit everything about them onto the page. Whether you're the kind of writer who keeps pages of details on your characters' personalities, appearances, and histories, or the kind of writer who keeps their characters as a cast of imaginary friends in your head, the fact remains. You know more about your character than what appears in the story. (And if you don't, you don't know them well enough yet.)


Now try writing yourself as a character—you can't fit even half of your personality on the page, and the bits you do write, you may struggle to portray accurately. (I suppose authors of memoirs and autobiographies have room for more of themselves, but even reading a book entirely about a single individual is still vastly different from sitting down and getting to know them face to face. There is always—always—more in person.)


So try writing everything about God's nature into a book. The only book that succeeded in that is the Bible, and I'm pretty sure there's even more we'll learn about Him in heaven! He is infinite, after all. Therefore . . .


Point #1: You can't fit all of God into your book. Instead, try to convey one or two aspects about Him, something that can be grasped or explored throughout the story.



And here's another:


Point #2: God can show up in fiction in two ways: as a theme or as a character.


Truth, love, and light show up anytime I write. That's just who I am. God is love, and He is the source of truth and light. So whether He is directly named or not, stories containing truth, love, and light bring Him honor because they are aspects of His nature. This is where God can be woven into a story's theme.

But sometimes a fantasy story calls for an allegorical representation of God. This is where He shows up as a character, and this is possibly the hardest thing to get right. (But remember point #1!) He may be visible to other characters and may interact with them face to face. Or He may be invisible, referenced only as other characters pray, worship, or think about Him.

Or there's a third option where God may show up as a character and as part of the theme.

So which is right for your story?


I can't answer that for you. That's something for you to think about, pray about, and experiment with. But I can offer a few thoughts and questions to get you going!

Pros and cons of God as a character


Pros
  • We've all wished God was physically here in front of us (at least I have!). Living vicariously through the characters, we get to imagine what it will be like to talk to Him face to face, touch Him, and hear Him speak. If written well, this can be very powerful for you, the characters, and the readers.
  • If you're writing an allegory, particularly if it's an allegory of Jesus's life on earth, you'll likely need a God-figure walking around.
  • It brings across an immediacy, a tangible presence.
  • It can breathe fresh life into our perception of God, especially when you shake up the uber religious picture of God as a stern, old man with a beard who zaps people from heaven. Let's see Him laughing, enjoying life and people! Let's see Him cry. Let's see the real Jesus of the Bible, but with different skin on.
Cons
  • You have to put words into God's mouth. That leaves you with two options: quoting directly from Scripture (which can feel shoehorned into the story), or penning your own words (and running the risk of portraying God inaccurately).
  • Therefore you may not feel comfortable writing Him as a character.
  • It takes a great deal of skill to write a God-figure that feels authentic and true to His nature. If your character falls short, well . . . Let's just say that chances are high He's quite important to your story, so a lot of it may crumble with Him.
  • Limiting an infinite being to a finite body can make Him come across as too small.

Examples that shone
  • Aslan (Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis) - Warm, mighty, mysterious, faithful, sacrificial. It's hard to even begin to sum him up! Perhaps the most succinct description is, "He's not a tame lion, you know." There's something wild, something awe-inspiring, about him. In this case, putting God in the finite body of a lion was not a disadvantage at all--as a reader, I always felt there was something more to him than what I could see. Something otherworldly.
  • Prince Aethelbald (Tales of Goldstone Wood, Anne Elisabeth Stengl) - As a picture of Jesus as the Lover of our souls, he persistently woos Una though she rejects him time and time again. Aethelbald is nothing remarkable to look at. Even his name is the furthest thing from romantic. But his heart beats truer and stronger than any of her other suitors, and by the time I finished reading Heartless, I was stunned by the incredible allegory. Again, presenting God as a flesh-and-blood character could have come across badly, but Anne Elisabeth Stengl gave him the same "something more" element that Aslan has. (Coincidentally, both characters hail from across the sea. Interesting.)

Pros and cons of God as a theme

Pros
  • This approach is more subtle.
  • It leaves the spotlight on human beings exemplifying Christ-like attributes, rather than putting them all into one character who represents God. These humans don't have to be perfect (in fact, please don't make them that way!), but they serve as examples for us to reach toward.
  • This can make your story more accessible to readers who don't consider themselves to be Christians, while still reflecting God in a beautiful way.
  • Not every story needs a Savior or Creator. Some are actually better off without it. It's all about the story's scope and purpose.
Cons
  • On the other hand, some stories do need a Savior/Creator character. In the case of The Brightest Thread, I had written in some false gods to give the storyworld more depth and texture. But by doing so, I created an imbalance, and then had to invent a God-like figure. If I had left God solely as the immaterial theme of the story, it wouldn't have sat well with me.
  • Without a God to rely on, your heroes' journeys may feel like they fall flat. Depending on what kind of story you're writing, your characters may need a higher power to bring about true transformation.
  •  Again, depending on the scope of your story, the themes you've so carefully woven into your story may be misconstrued as new age or a Disney-fied "follow your heart" sort of message.
Examples that shone
  • Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)- Okay, okay, I know there technically is a God-figure (Il├║vatar), but to my knowledge he isn't really mentioned in LotR. However, we can all agree that numerous characters exemplify godly attributes like courage, love, kindness, wisdom, justice, grace, etc. Watching Frodo suffer as he carried the ring to Mordor, seeing Sam remain faithful to his friend the whole way, witnessing Gandalf face the Balrog . . . these examples impacted me more than some fictional God-figures have.
  • Reapers (Bryan Davis) - Technically this isn't fantasy, it's dystopian. (And God may come up later in the trilogy, I don't know.) But despite the fact that God isn't talked about, Phoenix embarks on a journey that will position him as a hero. A person who rescues the oppressed, who speaks for the voiceless, who defends the defenseless. All qualities that inspire us to do the same.

A note: these lists are in no way exhaustive, and they're not meant to sow doubt in your mind, dear writer! There are so many combinations of writing God as a character and/or as a theme (because you can definitely do both in the same story), and so many degrees therein. This whole post is meant simply to inspire careful consideration and deeper thought.

This isn't a salvation story


That's what I said when wrestling with the God question for The Brightest Thread. And even after deciding to incorporate a fictional God, the fact remained. This novel is not about a character "getting saved" or "finding Jesus." Some novels are, and that's great! But this particular novel is about two people sharing a love strong enough that they would each risk everything for the sake of the other; and about being willing to receive that kind of sacrificial love. That's it.

Characters briefly question God (who goes by another name in the novel), and they briefly reach out for His help. But these protagonists' journeys are not about faith.

I was discussing this with my writing buddy, and brought up the topic of evangelism. In leadership college last year, my leader said something that revolutionized the way I look at evangelizing. To paraphrase:

If a 0 is not knowing Christ, and a 10 is giving your life to Him, we often think that we have to bring someone from 0 to 10 all at once. But maybe all you're supposed to do in that encounter is bring someone from, say, a 3 to a 4. Just one step closer to knowing Jesus. You don't need to force a conversion on the spot. The next Christian to come along may bump that person up to a 5. Or you might be the person to meet someone at 9, and you get the chance to pray with them and see them become a 10.

"I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow." 1 Corinthians 3:6

[via Pinterest]
Maybe it's the same in fiction. We don't have to bring every character to a 10, nor do we have to do that for every reader. Maybe we just plant a seed. Or maybe the story is the water making it grow. What's important is that we are discipling.

Playing matchmaker



My writing buddy subconsciously uses a really cool method of figuring out how to portray God in her stories. She looks at what her story's theme is about--aka, what her main characters need to learn--and she traces that back to an aspect of God.


For example, one of her characters needed to learn about the importance of mercy over justice. So in that particular story, the God-figure's mercy and love are highlighted. She doesn't spend a lot of time on other topics, like God's wisdom or power or holiness. Just what's central to the theme. The result is a beautifully woven tapestry that doesn't bonk the reader over the head with an ill-written sermon.


However . . .



Please, please, PLEASE don't preach.


All of this stuff about figuring out how to portray God and tie in themes and character arcs may be better left as something to study after you've written your story! Especially if you're prone to write from a soapbox.


More and more, I'm learning that the process of writing a transformative story is supposed to transform me first, otherwise it's not authentic.


Writing themes that spring organically from the soil of character conflict and worldbuilding takes practice. A lot of it. But don't let that discourage you from trying, because that's how we all grow.


My friend told me, "Most of the time my characters teach ME things, instead of me trying to teach readers things." Couldn't have said it better myself! So when you're writing God into your stories, let Him surprise you. Let go of what you think you know, and see what happens.


"He who has ears, let him hear."



How and if you choose to convey God in fiction depends largely on your intended audience. But regardless of whether you're writing mainstream or for the Christian community, regardless of whether it's YA or middle grade or adult, resist the urge to explain yourself.


Jesus didn't. In the parables He told to the masses, His Father sometimes appeared as a landowner, a farmer sowing seed, a shepherd, a literal father, a master, a groom, and more. But most of the time, Jesus didn't explain the metaphor to His listeners. He left that up to them. Because when a person puzzles out the hidden meaning of a story themselves, the meaning sticks.


I think Jesus knew that those who were ready to know Him would find Him.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Summer Book Haul // Ruffles & Grace GIVEAWAY

(graphic via Victoria Lynn)


Hey! You didn't expect to see me again so soon, did ya? But I'm back midweek with some exciting news. Blogger and author Victoria Lynn is having a super fun blog party and giveaway this week. She's celebrating the growth of her blog, Ruffles and Grace, and all the friendships she's formed with the blogging community.


Giveaway



Yesterday's part of the giveaway was fashion-oriented, and the part I'm participating in today is about as bookerly it gets! Here's how it works. Myself and several other book/writer bloggers are all posting about summer + books in some form or another today. You get to enjoy said posts, and by doing so, you can enter Victoria's massively epic giveaway! Details can be found on her blog HERE. Trust me, you don't want to miss this!


(graphic via Victoria Lynn)

(photo via Victoria Lynn)

The items she's giving away are:


-A book bundle including
  • Left to Die by Ivy Rose
  • Martin Hospitality by Abigayle Claire
  • Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter
  • Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter
  • London in the Dark by Victoria Lynn herself
  • The Reluctant Godfather by Allison Tebo (link leads to my review)
-A Book Bestie (aka book protector) by Ruffles and Grace, Victoria's Etsy shop
-Some special handpicked notebooks
-A book themed tote by Ruffles and Grace
-A small leather journal

Does that not sound fantabulous? I actually just ordered a Book Bestie last month. You know how awful it is to shove a book in your purse or backpack, and take it out later to find the cover's been bent? Well, a Book Bestie is just the fix, because you slide your book into it, then shove that inside your purse/backpack/bottomless Mary Poppins carpetbag. Presto, no more bent covers! I'm loving mine so far, even if it is too large for my usual purse. It'll be perfect for toting novels--ahem, textbooks--to and from school, and it's even large enough to fit bigger notebooks too.

But on to the summer book haul I promised in the title! What better time to share alllll the books I acquired this summer than now, when summer is (sadly) ending?

Summer Book Haul


I thought my bookshelves were stuffed before, you guys. Ha. The stacks are slowly invading my entire room now! Take a look at the fourteen new additions to my collection:

Where am I supposed to put these beauties? If you have spare bookshelves lying around, ship them to me! Actually
don't. I don't have room for more shelves either.

There's something special about the circumstances around a book--where you found it, why you bought it, who gave it to you. There's always a story leading up to a book. Maybe the book was borrowed from the library before you decided you simply must possess your own copy, and marched straight to the bookstore to buy it. Maybe a dear friend gave the book to you just because. Maybe you "visited" the book in the bookstore several times, as some of my friends like to do, before committing to it. Maybe a perfect stranger recommended it to you. Maybe you sniffed it out in the dusty corner of some forgotten second-hand bookshop. Whatever the case, there's always a story surrounding the story.

Today I'd like to briefly share a few of my own stories.

bought: April 2017
Okay, so April is technically to early to count as summer, but hush--I couldn't leave these two out! While gallivanting around Banff, Alberta with friends on a college trip this spring, I naturally gravitated toward the nearest bookstore. (Am I the only one who must visit the bookstore of every new city I travel to? Yeah? Just me? Okay.) While there in Chapters, I snagged these.

Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer // TBR (to-be read) // bought because of Sleeping Beauty research (and that gorgeous, silky smooth cover).

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine // read this month, half on the plane and half on vacation // bought because it's been on my TBR probably since it came out, and the premise is a.m.a.z.i.n.g.

bought: sometime during the summer of 2017

I was supposed to be shopping for birthday gifts, I swear. I was supposed to be finding things for somebody else. But like any self-respecting book dragon, I snuck a peek at the discounted section of my local bookstore on my way to the birthday cards. And this baby was on a really, really good sale. I couldn't say no.

Emissary by Thomas Locke // read the library's copy two years ago // bought because I loved it . . . and also because I needed that cover on my shelf, honestly.

won: September 2016

Remember that 100-for-100 challenge I participated in last summer? Well, entrants were eligible to win a book from Go Teen Writers, and I ended up winning! I picked Jill Williamson's book on world-building. But a funny thing happened, and I sort of fell through the cracks on their end of things. Not until I came across old emails while cleaning up my inbox did I realize, "Oh, I never did get that prize, did I?" So I contacted them, and they were incredibly sweet about it all. And Storyworld First arrived in the mail this summer! Hoorah!

Storyworld First by Jill Williamson // TBR // won in a giveaway; selected because I'm always ravenous for writing tips.

bought: June 2017

While enjoying a day in the city with my middle sister, we visited Chapters, and I snatched up these two lovelies in anticipation of our upcoming vacation. (I have this thing about being very selective with my holiday reads.)

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall // read this month // bought because some of my dear internet friends, including Deborah O'Carroll and Mary Horton, highly recommended it!

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand // read this month // bought because I first heard of it from Katie Grace, I thought the idea of a young girl's fiction running parallel to her reality sounded cool, and that cover is beautiful.

bought: July 2017
On another city excursion, this time with my brother, we were browsing Chapters (again) when my gaze landed on this book. And a spontaneous, completely not-premeditated book purchase ensued.

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron // on my TBR now that I own it // bought because a) Sharon Cameron is fantastic, b) that cover is equally fantastic, and c) the premise made my eyes widen right then and there.

bought: August 2017

So I went to Realm Makers. And Realm Makers had a bookstore. And this bookstore happened to contain a huge number of books by Enclave authors, indie authors, and just all-around cool-sounding Christian authors that big chains don't carry on their shelves. So what does a reader do? She buys as many as she can fit in her suitcase because this is way better than ordering them on Amazon.

By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson // TBR // bought because Jill is an amazing human and I've been wanting to try her books forever.

A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes // TBR // bought because only like nine million of my friends have been flailing about this dystopian trilogy for years.

Orphan's Song by Gillian Bronte Adams // TBR // bought for the same reasons (plus I need an excuse to buy Songkeeper, which boasts one of my favorite covers ever--are you sensing a pattern?)

The Beast of Talesend and The Tomb of the Sea Witch by Kyle Robert Schulz // TBR // bought because a) Kyle's a fellow Silmarillion host! and b) Deborah O'Carroll's review of The Beast convinced me.

Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland // on my TBR now that I own it // bought because his classes were so informative, and again, I'm on a constant hunt for writing advice.

bought: August 2017
While on vacation with my family, yes, we did find a bookstore. The nose for books must be in the genes. I wanted to buy a book (why I would want to spend more money on books, after flying home with a suitcase full of them, I can't figure out), so I finally settled on this one.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs // TBR // bought because I own the first book and it feels wrong not to finish what I started and buy the rest of the trilogy (even if the first book fell a little bit short of my expectations).




Do I have a problem?



Yes. Yes, I do have a problem. It's the same problem afflicting most all book dragons alive, and I don't regret one bit of it! But I definitely have my reading cut out for me for the next few months. I may not even set foot in the library for a while--horror of horrors.



What's the best book YOU bought this summer? Have you checked out Victoria's giveaway yet? If not, shoo! Off with you!