Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Subplots and Storylines - July 2015

July has been a string of hot, humid days punctuated by rainstorms. Stepping outside was like hitting a wall of muggy air most afternoons--the temperature has hovered around 30 degrees Celsius (that's close to 90 Fahrenheit, for all you Americans).

Pea season and strawberry season have come and gone. Fresh sugarsnaps just taste of summer, and a slice of pie stuffed with just-picked strawberries confirms that yes indeed, we are in the midst of summertime. And we can't forget those few meals that were strictly composed of watermelon and rohl kuchen. (That's a Mennonite/German dish . . . a deep-fried doughnut-y thing that looks like braided/twisted bread. It's absolutely delicious with watermelon.)

You'd think these hot days would ooze by slowly, but noooo. July galloped by nearly as fast as May and June. I won't inundate you with all the details, seeing as much of what filled my month was the same as last time (and the time before that): work, family time, gardening, general life activities, etc.

However, a few new things did happen this month.

My family and I celebrated Canada Day with friends. Snacks, fireworks, more glow sticks than I knew what to do with, and all-around fun times.

I wrote like crazy for my Sleeping Beauty novella--have I mentioned how desperately that thing is trying to grow into a novel??--and am currently at 17k. I hope to reach 20k in the next day or two, if I push hard. Not like that will signify the end of the story . . . The prince is just now on the cusp of going off to rescue the princess. Sound like a problem? It is. Even so, I've been having a delightful time unspooling this story, untangling threads and plaiting them into a design that will need some tweaking later not. Plus, Luci and Hadrian and Aleida and all the rest have completely captured my heart.

Recently, one of my dearest friends spent two and a half days at my place, during which time we enjoyed catching up, goofing off, watching both Captain America movies (her first time seeing them!), and bike riding out to a park to do a fun photo-shoot in the heavy July heat. Yes, we made sure to guzzle lots of water.

My two sisters took care of a friend's little dog for a week, so we saw lots of that adorable pooch here during that time. (Do you know how hard it is to put her in her kennel for night and have to leave her whimpering there? Do you? She's like a bratty child at bedtime, but how can you say no to that sad little whimper? My sisters had to drag me away.)

It was quiet on the reading front this month--only two novels. Now I know all you bookworms are gasping in horror right now, but in my defense, I was busy and one of the books was Pride and Prejudice.
This is my exact copy, picked up in perfect
condition at a book fair. For $3, that's a win,
wouldn't you say?
It took me almost three weeks to read, and every chapter felt like an accomplishment. Not that it was a bad book--not at all! I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's just not the style I normally read, what with long sentences and heavy narration. But the cast of characters is a delight. Spunky Lizzie, kindhearted Jane, enigmatic Mr. Darcy (oh, my dear Mr. Darcy), indolent Mr. Bennet, frantically flighty Mrs. Bennet, adorable Mr. Bingley . . . Plus, the book is surprisingly witty. Can't go wrong with formal, wordy insults.

The second book is Plain Kate by Erin Bow.
On a whim, I picked it up at the library because the cover was pretty and the blurb interesting. The simple narrative style is deceiving, though. I was expecting the story to sit comfortably on the younger YA level, but the darker themes and sparsely poetic prose nudge it up a bit. Seriously, Ms. Bow knows how to paint a stunning picture. I'm in love with her style. And with Kate herself, an orphaned carpenter thought by the townsfolk to be a witch. Simultaneously gutsy and fearful, this plain-featured girl possesses remarkable skill with a knife. Her cat, Taggle, winds up talking (don't worry, that's not a spoiler), and very quickly chose a spot in my heart as well. He's just . . . very catty. If you've met Eanrin from Tales of Goldstone Wood, you'll understand what I mean; yet Taggle is still his own unique self. Just hear him speak:
"Hello," he said, then rolled over and peered up at her appealingly. "I am fond of you and present my throat for scratching."
Besides, he offers to kill things to make Kate feel better. HE IS SUCH A CAT. Anyway, I'm nearly finishedThis last quarter is raising all sorts of questions about the "villain." Such as, should I remove the quotations and consider him an actual villain, or is he merely a sympathetic antagonist?

Well, that about sums up July. Not as much to detail here this time around, which is why I went on and on about books. But that's a topic we all love, right? (And if you don't, I must question why you read blogs in the first place, especially the blog of a writer. Stick around and I'll convert you.)

How was your July? Do you have plans for August? I've got a few, one of them being to actually finish Sleeping Beauty's first draft, title it, and start editing it (a.k.a. chopping it into pieces with my Big Editing Axe). Do tell! I'm interested to hear how your summer's going. And since we were talking about food--quick, what's your favorite summer dish?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

5 Reasons Language in Fiction Should Be Wiped Out

When I look over the vast sea of fiction, I find language polluting the waters. Over and over again, it fouls what otherwise might have been a great book. And every clean secular novel I discover is cause for celebration, because they're so very rare. I don't know about you, but if there was a machine that could erase every obscenity out of books, I'd press that Big Red Button so fast, nobody would know what hit them.

Whether you're nodding along right now, or quirking your brow and thinking, 'Come on, Tracey, stop being a prude,' I hereby present my case—five reasons language should be scooped out of the fiction ocean like so much overgrown seaweed.

1. It can be a sign of unintelligence.
One doesn't require much of an IQ to string together a bunch of obscenities. In fact, it shows a much higher level of intelligence to be able to express anger, frustration, surprise, pleasure, etc. with a clean vocabulary. And I'm sorry, but the moment you start cussing, you've just slapped a label across your own forehead. You make it harder for me—or anyone—to respect you. This goes for real life, and it goes for books. Every time a character cusses, my respect for that character and for its author begins to drop.

2. It's uncreative, and it's lazy.
(Closely tied to the above reason.) It doesn't take much creativity to let loose a blue streak. "I can't believe that bleeping bleepity-bleep!" takes way less effort than, "I can't believe that backstabbing cad! Has he no sense of decency?" Not that one has to be quite so wordy or cheesy about it . . .

3. It's not that gritty.
Meaning, it takes a lot more than an arsenal of swear words to achieve a sense of gritty realism, if that's what the author is going for. A strong sense of setting, mood, and character goes a lot further than dialogue full of bleeps.

4. Readership.
Segment A of the population doesn't bat an eye at R-rated language. Segment B is generally repelled by it. So wouldn't it make sense to tone down (or eliminate!) the element that's chasing some of your readers away? Couldn't you appeal to a wider audience by mopping up your verbiage? I have a boundary when it comes to the swearing in books: cross that line, either in volume or severity, and I shut the book and leave it on the shelf. Most likely never to pick it up again. Mr./Mrs. Author, you just lost yourself a few dollars.

5. In fantasy, it's often unrealistic.
This one applies mainly to the fantasy genre. I was watching the movie Seventh Son with my dad the other night. It's high fantasy, okay, with dragons and monsters and a (ahem) typical beast-slaying plot. So when the characters started cussing using modern Earth words, that threw me for a loop! And this isn't the only movie or book I've encountered that's guilty of this believability-weakening flaw.

But there is a kind of language that I relish in a good fantasy tale--fictional profanity. Disclaimer: please don't give me cuss words that rhyme with the real ones. I skimmed through the first quarter of a book about little people living in a tree, and characters were dropping thinly disguised swears left, right, and center. Sure, a handful of them had to do with twigs, leaves, and other tree-related things, but the majority of the profanity was so close to the real thing, my brain translated it instantly. This is how NOT to write fictional oaths.

One of my favorite examples of well done fantasy swearing is found in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. Dragons are highly feared and despised in her world, so naturally, they feature in the language. "Dragon's teeth," or "Dragon's eat you, ___!" appear often. So do references to powerful beings: "Lumè love me," "lights above," and "Iubdan's beard," just to name a few. This sort of language is just so fun to exclaim. The polite characters frown upon such usage, but we as readers don't. It accomplishes the purpose without even coming near real world equivalents.

So what are your opinions on bookish profanity? Does it bother you? Does it matter? Whether you're still nodding along at this point, or don't agree with me in the slightest, I'm interested to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Beautiful People - Alucinora

I'm super excited to use this month's Beautiful People to introduce a character from my Sleeping Beauty novella! Hosted by the ever-creative Cait and Skye, these questions are particularly summery, and a number of them relate quite well to my main character:

Combine this face...

Princess Alucinora

(Known by her closest friends as Luci)

Luci lowered her gaze and plucked the strings a little faster. “I would very much like to go dragon riding with Aleida. Her dragons are well-trained—you’ve seen how gently they draw her carriage.”
Father cleared his throat, the sound like loose rocks tumbling down a mountain. “That is not a particularly . . . er, ladylike activity.”
Luci picked the next note harder. Simply because it requires one to wear trousers? Aleida wears breeches all the time.
“Nor is it safe,” Mother put in. “What would Iror do if the crown princess plummeted to her death on the rocks?”

With this hair (though not quite as red),
and you get Luci.
Oh, and because some of the questions are worded for more modern stories, I'll be tweaking a few along the way to fit my classic fairy-tale setting.
So without further ado, curious questers, let us begin.

1. What’s their favourite ice cream flavour?
There's no ice cream in Luci's kingdom, Iror, so we'll change the question to favorite dessert. She loves fresh fruit, and there's nothing better than cubed Glair melon and valley berries sprinkled with sugar.
2. Your character is getting ready for a night out. Where are they going? What are they wearing? Who will they be with?
Well, *cough* Luci doesn't really . . . go out much. Or at all. Her parents are overprotective that way. A night in, however, is not out of the question, and often consists of performing for the nobles. As an infant, Luci received some very special gifts, you see, from eight fairy stewards. Among those magical talents are song, dance, and a way with musical instruments. Thus, she is a popular entertainment choice. So she'll be in the castle's Great Hall, she'll be wearing one of her finer (though still poorly-woven) dresses, and she'll be with her parents and the nobles.

3. Look at your character’s feet. Describe what you see there. Do they wear dress shoes, gym shoes, or none at all? Are they in socks that are ratty and full of holes? What do they consider comfortable and what do they consider agony?
Slippers of the royal sort, though likely scuffed from Luci's wanderings about the castle or the occasional forest stroll. (When accompanied by guards, of course.) If she's not wearing slippers, she'll be barefoot--the most comfortable choice during the summer. What does she consider agony? Well, there is that one beaded pair that pinches and chafes in all the wrong places . . .

4. Do they have any birthmark or scars? Where are they and how did they get them?
Baby Luci--isn't she adorable?
Another of Luci's gifts is beauty, so if she was born with any birthmarks, they didn't stick around. As for scars, not much dangerous or strenuous activity is allowed, so the worst she can boast is paper cuts from all the books she handles. She desperately wishes her appearance wasn't so perfect, though. It's rather tiring to have the castle staff gaze at you in awe every time you walk by.
(I have to insert a little aside here. Luci's best friend Aleida, who happens to be the fairy steward of Iror, has a most intriguing scar . . . a star-shaped one on the back of her neck. She got it at a young age, during magic practice with an older fairy steward.)

5. What kind of music do they listen to? Does it change depending on their mood or is it always consistent? (Feel free to share samples!)
Luci avoids music as much as she can. She has little interest in something she can do perfectly. Her thoughts on being asked to perform?
"Like asking someone to sit and just breathe for an audience. Ridiculous and dull." 
If she's honest, though, she doesn't mind music in general. The beauty of it has been tainted by her gifts and the attention they bring, but if she can get away from all that, there is something about airy woodwinds that stirs her desire for freedom.

6. Do they have any musical talent? Play an instrument? How’s their singing voice?
I believe we've covered that one quite well already.

7. What kind of book would you catch them reading?
Anything and everything, particularly adventure stories or fantastic legends. They're the closest thing she has to an adventure of her own.

8. How would they spend their summers (or their holidays)?
Outdoors as much as possible! The forest is a favorite, and she loves visiting the waterfall with Aleida. But Luci dreams of an even better summer pastime: dragon riding. Unfortunately, the king and queen aren't particularly keen on that idea.

9. It’s Saturday at noon. What is your character doing? Give details. Ex. If they’re eating breakfast, what’s on the menu? Are they hiking, shopping, lazing around?
Spending time with Aleida. They'll either be talking, dreaming, walking, or holing up in the library together.

10. Is there anything your character wants to be free of?
All her days, Princess Luci has lived in the cage her parents made. They love her dearly, and since her safety has been compromised since birth, they'll do all they can to ensure she is protected. Luci feels stifled, both by their caution and by her gifts. Beauty and music are the pedestal upon which others have set her, and her gift of diplomacy prevents her from voicing her deepest thoughts. With everything in her, she longs to be free. Free to speak her mind, free to be seen as herself and not her gifts. Free to risk. Free to live. And as her story progresses, the bars of her cage only thicken, bringing a captivity far worse than any her well-meaning parents place on her.
I hope you've enjoyed meeting my headstrong princess as much as I've enjoyed presenting her to you! If you've done Beautiful People this month, let me know so I can come meet your characters too.
By the way, you know the goal I made to finish the first draft of this novella before the end of July? Well, I'm at about 14K words right now, which gives me less than two weeks to write the next 6. According to the chart I made (yes, I did that), I'm on track . . . but whether this story will actually be done within the word limit is questionable. It's trying desperately to become a full-length novel. When the whole falling asleep thing occurs around the halfway mark, you know you have a problem. Now if you'll excuse me, I have my editing knife to sharpen in preparation.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Author Spotlight - Ted Dekker

Ted Dekker, Christian  mystery/thriller/fantasy author, has published over 40 books in the last 15 years. (I've read 27 of them so far!) With 10 million copies sold worldwide, methinks this guy knows what he's doing.

First off, I can't tell you how much his novels have impacted me as a writer and as a person. Every single book is not one story, but two. First he arrests your attention with a gripping plot and fascinating characters--that's the surface story, and it's always strong enough to stand on its own.

But then partway through, you realize that a second story is unfolding beneath the first. I can't remember reading a Dekker book that didn't give me at least one "aha" moment. This underlying tale is the one that pulls you to a different vantage point, where you can rediscover something you've always known and find refreshment in the new angle. Or, more often than not, it's the tale that hits your heart like a train, blasting apart some piece of your world and leaving you to sort through the fragments and put them back together the way they were meant to be.

Yes. His books have been that life-changing. Some have even gone so far as to impact how I think, and I find myself using some of his images and terms in the way I relate to God, myself, and the world.

See, Dekker is anything but conventional. If you're expecting one of his books to fit a certain mold, he simply walks right past it and shows you something else. At times, that 'something else' is downright strange, I'll admit. Boneman's Daughters kept me up at night. When my dad and I went through a bedtime stories kick a few years back--for old time's sake, you understand--House, coauthored with Frank Peretti, had a similar effect on me. Showdown, among others, left me looking a bit like this.

And shall we just say that I occasionally wonder about Dekker's sanity, because of the disconcerting depth of his psychotic characters. Just kidding . . . sort of. ;)

If you're wondering at this point if the strangeness is worth picking up a Dekker book, I say "yes" and "maybe" at the same time. They're not for the faint of heart; many of them contain dark portions. But if you're willing to step into a vivid, wild adventure, do. Because the darkness serves a purpose. In this interview*, Ted says, "All of my stories take someone through a dark valley . . . to discover the light beyond." All of his characters come to the end of themselves, to a place of surrender. And it is there they find truth.



There is always light at the end, and it shines far more gloriously than it would have without the valley journey.

*I only watched the first half of this interview, because the second half dealt with books I haven't read yet. Supposedly there are no spoilers, but I'm not risking it! Anyway, the first half was really good.

So. Recommendations? I'm glad you asked! I first read the Circle Series (Black, Red, White, and Green, which is Book 0 and can actually be read first or last). I think it's a great starting point. Fantasy/real world crossover, beautiful allegory, thrilling plot, devious bad guys. If you enjoy those four books, there are other series connected to this one, mainly: The Paradise Novels (Showdown, Sinner, and Saint); and the YA series called The Lost Books (Chosen, Infidel, Renegade, Chaos, Lunatic, and Elyon--you'll notice the beginning letters spell circle). I've found some hidden connections to this storyworld in other novels as well, but these are the main books.

Another series I highly recommend is one he coauthored with Tosca Lee: the Books of Mortals trilogy. Dystopian with a medieval fantasy flavor, more stunning allegory, and a flat-out amazing premise. Basically, no one feels any emotion except for fear, which is deemed the only emotion necessary to survival. Of course there's a tantalizing "until . . ." tacked onto that, because certain characters stumble upon a means to reawaken themselves and--that's all I'll say for now. Seriously. Go read them now.

If an entire series is too daunting to get into, he's written a number of excellent standalones. Thr3e is mind-blowing.

I'd say his books are normally upper YA to adult, so if you're younger than 16, tread with caution. (If I remember correctly, I read Black when I was 14 or 15, which seems quite young to me now.)

Tell me, questers: have you read any Dekker? What did you think? Any favorites, or is his style just not for you? If you haven't read anything of his yet, feel free to ask questions! There's nothing a bookworm likes better than to share the wealth of yummy tomes with her fellow bookworms.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Sisterhood Award

Deborah O'Carroll at The Road of a Writer recently did a week of tag catch-ups, and she nominated me for one of them: The Sisterhood Award! If you've never experienced Deb's wry humor or amazing writing, go check out her blog. Plus, she has ridiculously amazing dreams involving Marvel characters.
(By the way, to any male readers, I give you fair warning. This is a slightly girly post, if the title hadn't already alerted you.)


  • Thank the blogger who nominated you, linking back to their site.
  • Put the award logo on your blog.
  • Answer the ten questions sent to you.
  • Make up ten new questions for your nominees to answer.
  • Nominate ten blogs.


1. Introvert or extrovert?
Bahaha, did I fool you?
Didn't think so. I'm much more of an introvert.

2. Do you like coffee?
Yes! I'll have two creams, no sugar, please. Or a mocha. Or an Iced Cappuccino from Tim Hortons, mixed with chocolate milk.

3. What are you reading right now?
Deb, you almost caught me at one of those rare times when I'm in between books and not reading anything. But this morning I started Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, so we're okay. (I don't know why, but I'm always surprised to find humor in those old classics.)

4. Favorite fairytale?
When I was little, it was always Cinderella. Later, Beauty and the Beast edged up beside it. Those are still two of my top favorites, but Sleeping Beauty is currently proving to be quite interesting too. *cough*

5. Favorite color?
Blue--anything in a turquoise/aqua shade makes me happy. And also green, especially a fresh spring green or olive green.

6. Favorite animal?
Do I have to settle on just one? Horses, big cats (as in lions, tigers, leopards, lynxes, cougars, etc.), hawks, DRAGONS (oh wait, did you mean real animals?), ferrets (just to look at, not to pet . . . they reek something awful), and basically any large, furry creature that looks either majestic or adorable.

7. Favorite food?
Deb. Honestly. You know how difficult such an open question is? Couldn't you have been more specific? Like favorite dessert or favorite meat or . . .  you know. Gah. Okay. I have always loved my mom's cashew chicken. It's basically a stir-fry dish made of veggies, cashews, and chicken with homemade hoisin sauce.

8. Favorite TV show?
Um, I don't really watch TV. Because we don't really have cable. And quite frankly, I don't feel I'm missing out on a whole lot. But I have seen parts of some shows. If I'd watched more than two episodes, I'd shout "Once Upon a Time!" But I haven't fully formed my opinion on that yet. Let's go with Gilligan's Island, because I've seen both seasons, and despite the cheese and leaps in logic (WHO in the world brings suitcases full of stuff on a three-hour tour?!), it's quite funny.

9. Favorite historical time period?
Ooh, I love this question. I'd say the Renaissance, because it's somewhat cleaner than the Middle Ages, yet still has that lovely medieval quality. But I also like the 1800's. And I enjoyed learning about the two World Wars and the Civil War in American history. (Happy Independence Day to all my American friends, by the way!) Goodness, I can't even answer these questions properly. I don't have a single answer for any of them.

10. Favorite book character you met recently?
Hmm. Maybe the Outlaw, from Ted Dekker's Outlaw and Eyes Wide Open. Everything he said kind of shook up truths I'd taken for granted or gotten used to, and presented a whole new facet. Pieces of his dialogue have lodged themselves in my brain and started to work their way into my thinking. So the Outlaw is definitely a thought-provoking, heart-piercing character.

New Questions

I'm throwing a couple of Deborah's in here because they were so fun.
  1. What book world would you like to live in?
  2. Favorite flower?
  3. Name a friend who's like a sister to you, and if you like, share a memory.
  4. Dream ride? (Could have wheels, wings, or legs.)
  5. Favorite book character you've met recently?
  6. What song is playing in your head right now?
  7. Favorite historical time period?
  8. Would you prefer to live in a hobbit hole or Rivendell?
  9. Describe your everyday makeup, if you wear any.
  10. Favorite ice cream flavor?

I tag . . .

Sarah at Ink and Paper Tall Ship
Elphie at Dream Dancer
Christine at Musings of an Elf
Andrea at Andrea's Scribbles
Skye at Ink Castles
Wynonah at Life is an Adventure