Saturday, April 21, 2018

Autobiography of a Fantasy Character - A Refuge Disturbed


Three things before we begin! Number one, I apologize for disappearing last Saturday without warning. I hadn't meant to take an unplanned week off blogging, but school caught up with me and had other plans. Number two, I might be slow to reply to your comments this week as well because of final exams. And number three, please thank Blue @ To Be a Shennachie for reminding me that it's been much too long since we heard from our beloved Fantasy Character, aka Hero, aka Chosen One! I hope you enjoy the next leg of his journey.


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Fantasy is my favorite thing to read and write, but every genre comes with its own suitcase of tropes. In this blog series, we poke some fun at our beloved stories and at ourselves as fantasy lovers.


If you haven't yet read the first two instalments, check them out:


Origin Story (in which Hero grows up in Quaint Village, Mentor is mysterious, Incentive dies, Villain's backstory is disclosed, and Hero discovers his singular purpose: to save the world.)


The Journey Begins (in which Hero and Mentor set off to save the world, horses are invincible, Hero is wounded, Mentor is characteristically mysterious, and they take refuge with the elves.)




I scrambled up in bed, speechless at the sight before me. This elven girl was golden sunshine, icy rivers, and heaven itself personified.



"Who are you?" she demanded.


I scanned the room, casting my gaze from the mossy floor to the wooden walls to the fern-frond curtains as if I could find the answer there. At last I said, rather dumbly, "Hero."


"Well, it's about time you got here." She shoved a bundle of clothing at my chest. "Get dressed. The Feast is about to begin." With that, she flounced out of the room.


It occurred to me that I never got her name. Moving carefully, my shoulder still tender, I donned the outfit she'd left me: a green jerkin, brown breeches, soft leather boots, and a shimmering cloak the color of cobwebs. Every piece of clothing felt light as air, yet when the corner of my cloak caught on the bedframe, it didn't snag or rip. Perhaps it was stronger than it looked.


My bedroom's doorway opened onto the landing of a staircase, which spiraled down the inner core of a gigantic oak tree. Other landings carved into the wood led to doors and knothole windows. What marvelous people, to create such a home in the heart of nature. Eyes wide, I hurried down the stairs to the bottom and ventured out into the late afternoon sunlight.


"Ah, Hero!" A tall, willowy elf with hair down to his waist and a longbow strapped to his back beckoned me over. "Come and join the Great Feast. I have a seat for you. Mentor is already there." He guided me across a grassy lawn to a pavilion formed from slender saplings intertwined to create a leafy canopy. Beneath the flowers strung in their bows was a long table groaning under the weight of platters of food. Elves were seated all around, each looking solemn and noble, all with flawless skin, smooth hair in varying shades of gold and chestnut, and forest-colored clothes. Several elves with flutes and stringed instruments struck up a silvery aria in one corner of the pavilion.


The elf-man sat at the head of the table and gestured for me to sit on his left. Mentor was already there on my own left. And across from me sat the beautiful girl.


"Hello, Father," she murmured.


Good heavens, she was some kind of elf princess! And this elf-man was a king. I blushed.


"My people!" the Elf King shouted. "The prophesied Hero is in our midst at last! He is the one who will restore the keys to their rightful place and save the world!"


Cheers erupted--but not the raucous whooping and hollering I might hear at home in Quaint Village. No, these cheers were like music, like a chuckling brook, and I suddenly felt very clumsy and oaf-ish in the presence of such genteel folk.


The Elf King produced two pendants from within his cloak, each of them a brilliant blue gem on a golden chain. "To signify our support, I present Hero and Mentor with elven ward-gems." He hung them over our necks. "These ward-gems will guard you against poison and disease." He smiled and gestured to his daughter. "El'liaennwil will now sing the Ballad of the Hero."


El'liaennwil rose from her place without looking at me and began to sing with the voice of a lark. She sang and sang many sweeping, somber lines that told of a darkness under the earth and an orphaned boy destined to conquer it. I suppose she meant me, but I wished with all of my heart that she would look my way at least once. She did not, though the ballad lasted an hour. When at last she sat down again and we began to eat, the food had gone cold. Which was just as well, since everything was either bread or fruit, with nary a nip of protein to be seen. Yet even this light fare filled my belly with warmth.


Throughout the proceedings, Mentor said very little, but seemed to be thinking quite pensively.


By the time we had finished the Great Feast, twilight was dressing the forest clearing in dusky shadows. El'liaennwil finally looked at me. "Come, Hero," she whispered. "There is something I must show you."


She whisked away into the darkness, and I hurried after her. Down a winding path through the trees she led me, her golden hair muted in emerging starlight. I thought in that moment I might follow her anywhere. We stopped at the bank of a narrow brook. El'liaennwil took my hand, causing my heartrate to trip. "Look."


I followed her gaze to the ferns growing by the water. But rather than gleaming green and lush, they were blackened and curled with rot. "What's wrong with them?"


"The keys," she said. "Ever since they were ripped from their resting place, the forest has been dying. I fear even the great oak in which we live could topple before long."


Looking into her shining, solemn eyes, I vowed then and there to ensure that never happened.


The next day, Mentor was the one to rouse me from my slumber. "How is your shoulder?" he asked.


"It feels great," I replied. And it did. Something about the fresh air and elven food--and perhaps the effects of my elven ward-gem--had completely healed my wound.


"Then we will train. The Elf King can teach you things that I cannot."


So Mentor and I joined the Elf King in another round clearing not far from the oak, where we spent hours upon hours discussing philosophy, nature, the wind, heroism, the significance of insects, and how to get in touch with the power running through my veins. The Elf King taught me how to find it and harness it, and soon I could release blasts of power so large, they shook the highest trees.


"But beware you do not let it get out of control," the Elf King said soberly. "For it is your uncontrolled powers that catch the attention of Villain's dark warriors, and they will be able to track the echoes of that power straight to you. They seek to destroy you before you can return the keys to where they belong."


I nodded. "Yes, sir."


I still had much to learn, so after another long night of feasting and ballads, we trained the next day, and the next. The Elf King had other business to attend to, so El'liaennwil took over my training alongside Mentor. Together they taught me much. With every swipe of my sword and blinding blast of light, I felt more and more ready to take on a whole army of dark soldiers. Especially with El'liaennwil sending me tiny nods of approval when she thought I wasn't looking.


"Careful, Hero," Mentor cautioned. "That last strike was nearly too much."


"Don't worry, Mentor," I replied. El'liaennwil and I were facing off with swords in the middle of our circular training ground in the woods. "I have everything under control." I twirled my blade and reached for the power thrumming through my bloodstream--reached deeper than ever before and felt it swarming under my skin, building like a tidal wave. Light surged from my sword, my eyes, my hands, and I brought my weapon crashing against El'liaennwil's sword with a resounding CRACK!


A cylinder of white light shot up all around me, sending a beacon soaring into the sky.


El'liaennwil stumbled back, her blade cloven in two. "Hero, stop!"


But try as I might, I couldn't close the floodgates and turn off the pure energy beaming through me like a miniature sun.


"Hero!" Mentor yelled.


The grass at our feet shrivelled to brown, then just as quickly sprung up again with spring green. The trees lost their leaves in a dry rattle, then put forth fresh buds. Black slime oozed out of the ground. Sparks of light bounced from my sword and set fire to the sludge. I shook with the force of power, every bone vibrating. "Help!" I shouted. "I can't stop it!"


That's when the dark soldiers streamed in on every side. Dozens of them. El'liaennwil drew knives from the folds of her tunic and slashed her way into the fray. Mentor swung his staff. "GHAOWOUSHAL!" he shouted, just like last time. And just like last time, light shot from his staff and sent enemies bowling over.


But I continued to quake in the middle of my own firestorm of light.


Mentor dashed to my side and grabbed my shoulders. "FALKSOWFALLEN!" With that magic word, my power stopped.


I crumpled to the ground, deflated. The world swam before my eyes, fading in and out. In the haze, I thought I saw Mentor as I had in my vision--mysterious and powerful and full of secrets. He repeated the word, but instead of "falksowfallen," I heard, "May the prince of light be contained."


Then the vision left and my eyes cleared.


"Get up." Mentor hauled me to my feet. "They're recovering!"


The dark soldiers were rising to their feet again, weapons in hand and murder in their eyes.


El'liaennwil downed two of them with expert slashes before running to us. "To the Falls! Hurry!" She tore into the woods, and Mentor yanked me after her. We blazed through the trees, the sound of crashing pursuit growing closer behind us.


"We can't lead them to the oak!" I panted. "Your home--your people will die!"


"That's why we're going to the Falls," El'liaennwil snapped back. She leaped over a fallen log and led us ever deeper into the forest.


At last, when my lungs felt they were about to burst, we broke out onto a rocky cliff. A roaring waterfall gushed over the side, the bottom wreathed in white spray. "What?" I yelled. "Do you want us to jump?"


Behind us, the dark soldiers reached the treeline.


El'liaennwil peered over the edge of the cliff and loosed a piercing whistle. Then she tipped over the side.


"El'liaennwil!" I screamed.


Just then, a flash of red with wings zoomed past, El'liaennwil on its back. A dragon! "Jump!" she called.


The dark soldiers charged closer. In a second, their swords and clubs would be upon us.


Mentor and I inhaled deeply, nodded at each other, and took a flying leap off the cliff into empty air.


To be continued . . .

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Five Poisoned Apples: A Celebration

The results are in, folks!

So we're going to have a little party to celebrate, because this is the last fairy tale contest Rooglewood Press is going to hold, and it deserves to be commemorated.

The Winners

The Facebook party last Saturday was such fun! This year there were 27 finalists, 13 honorable mentions, and four special unicorns (stories that received perfect scores from the judges). From that lengthy list, the five winners were selected. So many amazing stories were celebrated, and I know there were many more that went unlisted but still possessed such creativity and imagination. I don't envy the judges' job at all!


I was hoping to share the announcement here before it was officially posted on the Rooglewood Press website, but alas, school was rude and didn't let me. So by now you've probably all seen the five winners' names on the cover already. In case you missed it . . .




Isn't it stunning? And look, look--I KNOW ONE OF THE WINNERS. It's our very own Skye Hoffert! And I couldn't be happier for her! You've probably seen Skye in the comments around here. She and I have been blogging buddies and writing pals for years. A few months ago, I had the pleasure of beta reading Falling Snow. Believe me, the grungy circus vibe of her story is the perfect way to open up this anthology.


Next up, Jenelle Hovde's historical fantasy Raven's Heir. It sounds like this one follows the original tale most closely. In Anne Elisabeth Stengl's words, this story carries "that perfect blend of poetry and grit," which sounds like a writing style I'll love.


Then we have Cortney Manning's The Fairest One, a tale with a Middle Eastern flavor and dwarven mythology. It sounds positively delicious! And apparently Cortney entered five stories in this year's contest, earning a place as a winner, a special unicorn, and a twice-over honorable mention.


Following on that tale's heels is Maddie Morrow's vampire spin called Red as Blood. That's one genre these anthologies haven't explored yet, so I'm excited to see what sort of dark and twisty road this story will take me on.


And wrapping it up is Rachael Wallen's Snowbird and the Red Slippers. Involving a scholarship to a prestigious New York dance school, this contemporary tale is peppered with magical realism. It sounds like a sweet and satisfying way to end the book!


The Special Unicorns

These four ladies impressed the judges with their impeccable story skills. To reward them, Anne Elisabeth Stengl created beautiful covers for their entries! I'm unsure if I'm allowed to share them here, but they were each gasp-worthy works of art. The four special unicorns are:


  • Sarah Pennington with Blood in the Snow (I believe I've seen Sarah somewhere around the blogosphere, so I feel like I distantly "know" her.)
  • Cortney Manning with Yellow Bright (As I mentioned, she's also one of this year's winners.)
  • Elizabeth Brown with Heir (You may remember her as one of the Five Glass Slippers winners!)
  • Esther Brooksmith with The Blood of Beauty (I've recently gotten to know Esther through the super fun countdown posts she shared on her blog leading up the announcement!)


The Finalists & Honorable Mentions

Rather than list alllll the finalists and honorable mentions, I'll simply direct you again to the list posted on Rooglewood's website HERE. But I do want to take a minute to give a shout-out to my friends and acquaintances who received recognition!


Several finalists' names were familiar to me, but these two in particular are people I've interacted with online more often:


  • E.F. Buckles: Moonsilver (Loooove that title! I bump into EFB around here and Goodreads, both great places to chat about books.)
  • Sophia White: The Colour of Life (It's a Ukrainian/Russian setting with nesting dolls! Sophia frequents my blog too.)


And I've also interacted with these honorable mentions:


  • Meredith Burton: The Princess and the Invisible Apple Tree (I remember Meredith from back when the Tales of Goldstone Wood blog was active; she's very sweet!)
  • Claire Banschbach: Threads of Yellow, Blue, and Red (I've just recently started to get to know this indie authoress!)


And . . . well, if you already peeked at the list, then you've stolen my thunder, but . . .




You guys, I am blown away.


Seeing The Brightest Thread among the top ten in the Spindles contest was incredible, but with the way this year's story was going, I did not expect to match that success. Of all four stories I entered in Rooglewood fairy tale contests, Mirrors Never Lie was the one in which I was LEAST confident.


When I submitted to Glass Slippers, I was the kind of writer who doesn't know what she doesn't know.


When I submitted to Enchanted Roses, I loved what I'd written but was missing a few key ingredients.


When I submitted to Magic Spindles, I knew this was one of my strongest works yet. Yet everyone deals with doubt, so making it to the top ten list was a huge boost of confidence.


However, when I submitted to Poisoned Apples, my writing life was in a dry spell and I seriously doubted that novella would make it anywhere. What a thrilling surprise to be proven wrong! And I am deeply grateful for the feedback I received from judges. It nearly made me cry.

Now what are my plans for this story? As you probably know, revising The Brightest Thread is my top writing priority right now. That's what I plan to work on all summer long (and I really, really can't wait!). But that doesn't mean that Mirrors Never Lie is getting shelved forever! In fact, I specifically wrote it in the same world as TBT, years earlier in a different land. Soooo . . . there's the possibility of expanding MNL into a novel sometime. Maybe this will grow into a whole series of standalone fairy tale retellings connected by the same world? But I'm getting way ahead of myself! For now, rest assured that MNL is a story I plan to return to eventually.


Everyone Else



Okay, here's where I brush the confetti off the table and bring out a box of tissues and give hugs to all of the precious writers who submitted to this contest . . . but didn't see their names anywhere. All of us received feedback, so in that sense you're walking away with something! (Along with a completed story that you were brave enough to send out into the world!) But some of that feedback likely stings. In the wake of disappointment, it's easy to fixate on the critiques we received and the insecurities that come clawing back. This story is garbage. I'm not a good writer. Who am I fooling? Will I ever make it? I'm terrible at ____. Thoughts like this--and worse--threaten to black out the truth. So imagine we're sitting across from each other right now, and I'm looking you in the eye and telling you:


It's okay to hurt. When you're hoping against hope that you might get at least an honorable mention, your heart falls as name after name scrolls by, and none of them are yours. I get that. I've been there. Like I mentioned in a recent post about these contests, I've lost more competitions than I've won. And I've received feedback that shredded fragile parts of me and left me sobbing, others that left me sulking under a dark raincloud for days. So allow yourself to lick your wounds. But please, please don't stay there.


One contest does not a writer make. The results do not define you. They are not a measure of your worth as a person or as a writer. Don't let it touch your identity! As my pal Katie Hanna mentioned on a Facebook post, you've fallen off the horse, but get back on. Try again! Keep writing! If writing is something you love, if it's a thing you feel called to do, you owe it to yourself to pursue it.


Use this as a springboard. Let that feedback sheet rest for a while. Put the story away for a bit. But then when you feel up to it, go back and look at it again. All those critiques mentioned? All those areas that received low scores? Those are opportunities. Those are things you can actually learn. Did you get a low score in dialogue? Then pay careful attention to the way characters in your favorite books chat back and forth. Was your plot a mess? Go find some excellent books and blogs that teach story structure. Critiques can hurt, but they have been my best teachers.


And one more thought to help keep your spirits up as you tackle these problem areas: Whichever judge read your story has your best interests in mind. Look for the positives she highlighted and build on them. Also look for the things she didn't mention at all! A doctor may tell you your heart is having issues, but if they don't mention your lungs, I'd guess you're breathing just fine! Meaning the elements that don't get critiqued are probably at a functioning level. All is not lost, my friend.


Some Links



To wrap this party up, I'm sharing links to a few places where fellow writers have shared wonderful posts regarding Five Poisoned Apples!


Skye Hoffert @ Ink Castles // In this post, Skye shares her reaction to winning, as well as pictures of a completely magical party she threw with a friend! Go show her some love, you guys!!!


Esther Brooksmith @ The Pen of a Ready Writer // I'm just giving you a general link to her blog, because she's been posting thoughtful questions to spark discussion in the weeks and months leading up to the announcement. So go take a stroll through her archives, and while you're there, congratulate her on her Special Unicorn status!


Allison Tebo @ Allison's Well // Alli shares about the poison of playing the comparison game and how each of us are on our own journeys. She dug up some amazing, thought-provoking reflections! (This is a post you should all read whether you won, lost, or didn't even enter at all. Go on, shoo.)


Well, folks, these contests have been an adventure! Thanks for putting up with my sentimental self. ;) I send my warmest congrats to the winners, unicorns, finalists, and honorable mentions! Can't wait to read the collection when it releases December 2018!