Wednesday, November 29, 2017

5 Regal Books on My Shelf - The Coronation Blog Tour

Hey all! I'm popping back in the middle of the week to join indie author Livy Jarmusch's Regal Reads blog tour! (Link leads to the tour schedule, where you can check out all the blogs involved.) Livy recently released her story, Regal Hearts, which is written in a TV show format with seasons and episodes and whatnot. Pretty nifty, right? Here's the synopsis:

Following the dramatic birth of her royal daughters, the Queen of Bella Adar is murdered by the merciless sword of an evil usurper. The helpless princesses are placed in the care of the URIA, an undercover organization who safely extracts and protects the girls from a tragic fate. Sixteen years later, Lena Bodner encounters a stranger who uncovers secrets from her past...
Find Regal Reads in paperback or digital format.

Livy Jarmusch is a twenty-something author, singer, and songwriter. She enjoys crafting YA Christian fiction that is pure, lovely, inspirational, and of course, entertaining! When she's not writing, you can usually find her playing guitar, blogging, drinking peppermint tea, connecting with new friends, planning her next trip to Disney, or pinning images of Europe and Golden Retriever Puppies.

So to celebrate this royalty-themed book, today we'll be discussing five of the most regal books on my shelf!

Novels about long-lost princesses and questing princes and mad queens and exiled kings are not hard to find. We seem to have a fascination with royalty--what it means to hold power and responsibility, how it feels to rule, the consequences of decisions that affect entire kingdoms, what it might be like to wake up in a turreted fortress every day, waited on hand and foot . . . I suspect that the pauper-turned-prince trope is effective because it hints at our true identities as children of the Lord of Lords--but that's a post for another day.

Like I said, I have no shortage of those sorts of books, so let's dive in! (Links lead to Goodreads.)

Waterfall // Lisa T. Bergren

It's been years since I read the captivating River of Time trilogy, but it still holds a place in my heart. Time travel? Yep. Medieval Italy? Yes please. A fabulous Italian royal and his equally fabulous sidekick? You bet. In this book, sisters Gabi and Lia accidentally transport themselves through an ancient Etruscan tomb into the middle of the medieval era--and yes, they do begin falling in love with the royal guy and his best friend.

I'm a bit fuzzy on the details, but I remember battles, treachery, plague, castles, and romance. (I have a feeling that when I return for a reread, I may find more sappiness than I recall . . . but who cares? It's a fun series!) Marcelo, the royal guy, has definitely stuck around in my memory, though.

Heartless // Anne Elisabeth Stengl

I distinctly remember how I met this book. I was browsing the local bookstore when the cover caught my eye. The blurb sounded interesting, though the name Aethelbald seemed odd, and I resolved to find the book at the library to see if it was any good. Time passed and I forgot . . . until the day I did find it at the library. As cliché as it sounds, there was no looking back! I promptly fell in love with Anne Elisabeth's rich prose, fascinating world, and soul-stirring themes. Tales of Goldstone Wood is still among my top favorite series of all time!

And this one involves royalty too! We have Una, who is quite frankly a self-centered princess at the beginning, but still lovable, and she grows so much by the end. There's her little brother Felix, a mischievous fellow, and their father, the king of Parumvir. But the monarch who stole the show for me is the Prince of Farthestshore--and if you haven't had the pleasure of meeting him yet, please, please read this book.

Raven's Ladder // Jeffrey Overstreet

The Auralia Thread is one series I haven't talked about enough around here! It's yet another one on my ever growing list of books-I-must-reread-one-day. The writing style isn't fast-paced, but the tapestry of painfully real characters in a richly textured storyworld held me entranced.

In this book, the third of four, we follow a weary King Cal-Raven as he tries to lead the straggling remnant of his kingdom to a new home. I don't want to spoil the plot for anyone, so I won't say much more, except that Cal-Raven's doubts and struggles and search for the light spoke to me on a deep level. Just--ACK. GO READ THIS TOO.

Curse of the Spider King // Wayne Thomas Batson

Hey, look, there's a book I actually did reread! It was slightly less stunning the second time around in terms of the writing style (and I feel bad for saying so), but definitely still a fun, exciting, romping adventure. If you're looking for royal characters, this book is packed with not one, not two, but SEVEN royal Elf Lords. Seven young teens who were spirited away to earth as babies, and are now returning home to Berinfell to protect their homeland against the Spider King.

You know those special scenes that leave you breathless? The rare ones that stir your heart and wake something up inside of you? I recall one chapter involving Grimwarden training the seven Elf Lords (I keep telling you, I'm a sucker for those training sequences), where he said something profound. I couldn't tell you the details of the dialogue or description, I just have a bottle of that airy, hopeful, hold-your-breath mood stored away. Don't you just love how books stay with you over the years? Even if this trilogy is less impressive to me now as a twenty-something reader than it was as a young teen, it meant something to me then, and that is still special.

The Royal Ranger // John Flanagan

Capping off this list is the twelfth and final book of Ranger's Apprentice. For those of you who haven't read the whole series yet, I'll keep things vague and hopefully spoiler-free.

This book takes a leap forward by several years . . . Will is now grown up, and becoming just as grouchy as Halt, when his friends decide that the perfect way to snap him out of his foul mood is to give him an apprentice of his own. This apprentice is a tad rebellious and unwilling--and yes, royal as well. The result is just the kind of light, amusing, sarcastic heartwarming adventure I expect from Mr. Flanagan.

There we have it! Five beloved regal reads on my shelf. Have you read some of these? What's your favorite royal book? And don't forget to go check out the rest of Livy's book tour!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Strangest Browser Searches Tag

Way back in the days of cave paintings and sabre-toothed tigers (ahem, last July) Madeline J. Rose tagged me with a thingamajig of her own creation, the Strangest Browser Searches tag! It's so fun when blogger friends make up their own tags, isn't it? And this particular tag is pretty entertaining too.

The rules:
  • Get access to your browser history, and look through it
  • Pick at least 5 of the strangest searches you've had to look up as a writer
  • List them below with a short explanation as to why exactly you had to look them up
  • Tag 2-5 other bloggers

I apologize in advance--due to my slow writing lately, most of my Google searches were boring things like "how to calculate equal payments" (for math class) and "what is a contra account" (for accounting class) and "who retains rights in traditional publishing" (for a paper I wrote in business communication class). I dug through THREE MONTHS of history for these, guys, and most of them aren't even that spectacular.

If you don't have anything better to do with the next three minutes of your life, read on!

Note: they're almost all related to my Snow White retelling, so perhaps you'll glean some interesting tidbits of previously undisclosed knowledge. Or just random trivia, but pffft, what's the difference?

snow white original version

I looked this up because it's been a long time since I read the real thing, and I always go back to the source material before writing a retelling.

list of cold words

Snow. Frost. Shiver. Ice. Blizzard. Wow, what a great list. I must've been in a writing slump if I needed synonyms for cold.

norse mythical creatures

I found me a fearsome lindwyrm, thanks to this search!

how big is a hamlet

I don't remember the answer, but Skadi's home (in my inconsistent first draft of Snow White) goes back and forth between a hamlet and a village, so . . . methinks the research wasn't very effective.

how to skin a rabbit

I found some kind of hunting website and actually scrolled through bloody pictures of every step in the rabbit-skinning process. Be very proud of me.

scandinavian sailing medieval times / medieval animal skin canoes

Skadi paddles around a fjord while thinking gloomy thoughts, so I wanted to be able to visualize her vessel.

mbti and guilt

Because Skadi wrestles with more than her fair share of guilt, and I wanted to see how her personality type deals with it. (What is her personality type again? I forgot.)

how long should a chapter be in a ya novel

Short answer: nobody knows! Suggestion: 2500-5000 words.

how serious is a wound to the side

Because what would a fantasy novella be without a stabbing?!

do big five publishers accept christian manuscripts

I don't think I dug deep enough to find the answer, but I think I was contemplating the great big world of publishing that day, and simply looked this up out of curiosity.

tips for fast signature

You should see the margins of some of my notebooks, or the scrap paper I used for math equations back in high school--I'm not ashamed to admit that I've practiced my signature for future book signings. Still not happy with it, and still wondering if I should change the style of it so that it's different from what I use to sign important documents. o_O But on another note, HOW do authors manage to sign hundreds of books in an hour?

lies characters believe

I remembered reading a couple of blog posts on the subject, but didn't know where they were, so I searched them down again to help develop Skadi's inner conflict.

meaning of Skadi / Wilhelmina name origin

Meaningful names are important to me! I love hiding symbolism in my stories--it's just another secret that only I know. That is, until I blog about it or until sharp-eyed readers pick up on it. But half of the fun of these secrets is divulging them, so I don't mind. Anyway, Skadi is my Snow White character, and her name belongs to a Norse goddess of winter and archery! Wilhelmina is a German name meaning willing to protect; it fits pretty well with a secondary character who's come up in two of my stories, yet has never been "on screen."

aurora winter bird lyrics

I'm pretty sure it was Katie Grace who introduced me to AURORA, a young Norwegian singer with an ethereal voice and songs that inspire my writer brain. This particular song, Winter Bird, reminds me of my Snow White story!

sinew bowstrings

Skadi is an archer (and no, I shan't apologize for using that cliché), so I took some time to research more primitive forms of bows and arrows. I also needed to know what kind of bowstring she'd likely have access to . . . and what kind of bowstring might snap under extreme heat. *insert malicious smile*

why don't i like my protagonist

You've heard me grouse about that issue more than once here, so I won't go over it again! Since reading over my novella, I think much of my problem was imagined/the result of less-than-ideal writing circumstances, so hopefully whatever small issues are left can be corrected when I edit.

other odd things I've researched in times gone by:

This was YEARS ago, but one time I spent an afternoon performing mathematical equations for my dragon novel, The Prophet's Quest. Two characters are given special seeds they're instructed to plant in a long, continuous line across one corner of the country, and it occurred to me about five million drafts later that I'd never actually figured out how many seeds they would need. So I:

  • guesstimated the size of said fantasy country by comparing it to real life Britain or something like that
  • decided how long dragon's tails are (because the dragons are told to plant the seeds one dragon tail-length apart)
  • calculated how many dragon tails it would take to stretch across the section of land I'd drawn out . . .
  • . . . which equals how many seeds are needed
  • then I figured that the seeds were about the size of kidney beans
  • so I went to the kitchen and counted out how many kidney beans fill one measuring cup
  • converted cups to gallons
  • estimated how many gallons of seeds each dragon could carry
  • realized they needed A LOT OF HELP to transport all these seeds
  • and so I invented a species of birds called seolfor that could each carry a gallon's worth of seeds, and threw a whole flock of them into the story to solve the problem
  • WHEW.
And of course I've researched other, more typical writerly things like:

  • gunshot wounds
  • types of guns
  • types of swords
  • infection
  • injuries
  • facial burn scars
  • healing herbs
  • how far a human can walk in a day
  • how far a horse can run in a day
  • how long a person can survive without food/water
  • how far a league is (because there's no better way to jerk a reader out of your epic high fantasy story than to have the king say, "I shall travel thirteen miles to thy secret abode of magical trees," so leagues it is)
  • old cars from the 90's most likely to have engine trouble
  • blood types
  • what happens when you get a blood transfusion of the wrong type (bad stuff, okay)
  • how long it takes to fly to _____
  • how far a Beaver plane can fly on one tank of fuel
  • how many people can a dragon carry if they're about four or five times the size of a horse
  • how would a psychologist diagnose a kid who says he was a hero and fought battles on another bacon-flipping WORLD (answer: he's schizophrenic or has delusions of grandeur)
  • ETC.
In short, the life of a writer involves many questions. Sometimes Google has the answers, sometimes not. I used to think that writing fantasy was a good way to avoid research, but HA, I've never been more wrong! At least I get to research pretty cool stuff this way.

(Sorry, I've run out of time to tag anyone today, since I have to run off to work, but if you like this tag, by all means snatch it!)

What's the weirdest thing YOU have ever researched, in the name of writing or not?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Writing from a Healthy Place: 8 Ways to Rediscover Your Balance

Write from a healthy place.

That's a phrase you may see kicking around the vast array of writing blogs now and then. But what does it really mean?

For the past seven months, I've been thinking about that concept--ever since last spring when I dove headfirst into a writing frenzy, trying to get The Brightest Thread written in time for the Realm Makers conference. I've written under deadlines before, but that self-imposed deadline was one of the hardest I've faced. In three months, between thirty-hour work weeks and chores and family/friends and blogging, I turned a 20,000 word novella into a 70,000 word novel, and edited it once or twice.

I don't say that to brag (because goodness knows there are faster writers out there anyway), just to explain that by the time Realm Makers finished, I was ready to collapse.

Now, I'm glad I made that ambitious goal for myself. I really am. But there were days--even weeks--along the way that I was near burnout. Even though I loved the story, I wasn't loving the writing. In fact, as I thought back to the novel I'd been writing before TBT, I realized I wasn't loving that writing either.

I had to do something different! This wasn't the way the writing life was supposed to go, at least not forever. The stress, the perfectionism, the stalling, the obsessive fixation on word counts, the constant drive to write, write, write . . . it didn't feel healthy at all.

So that got me thinking. What would healthy writing look like for me?

Like I mentioned, this post has been simmering in the back of my mind for months, so there's lots I want to cover with you today! But before we begin, start imagining the answer to that question: what does healthy writing look like for you?

Here are eight ways I'm currently trying to rediscover my balance as a writer.

picture via Pinterest; graphic mine

1. A healthy writer works under pressure, not stress.

I love goals. Love 'em! Give me alllll the deadlines and deliverables and tracking methods and checklists, especially when it comes to something I love (like writing). I'm the kind of person who thrives off the satisfaction of seeing things GET DONE. And the truth is, if I didn't set goals for myself, I doubt I would get much writing done at all.

Putting pressure on myself to push, grow, and achieve is a good thing. Right? Right . . . as long as I have the right mindset. If that deadline causes panic, if that striving is festering with doubt, if the pressure is born out of fear--then I'm a stressed writer. And stressed writers can't keep up their frantic pace forever without crashing and burning.

Someone wise once told me long ago that two people could be under the exact same difficult circumstances, but their REACTIONS will determine whether or not they're stressed. Stress isn't the circumstance. It's your reaction to it. And really, stress is just low-key fear. Fear that you're not good enough, fast enough, whatever enough.

Hey, all you lovelies participating in NaNoWriMo this month? You're under a lot of pressure! Writing 50k in a month isn't easy. And you may be looking around at others who surpassed the 50k mark days ago, and lashing yourself with a whip to keep up. Or you may be thinking about the faster pace you kept during last year's NaNo, and doing the same whip thing. NOT GOOD, FRIEND.

Rather than letting the pressure cripple you, choose to manage it. Recognize that your worth isn't tied to your word count, writing goals, or ability to string sentences together. Then view the pressure as a challenge you're capable of beating.

And you know what? If you don't beat it, that's okay. No writing effort is a waste, and I'll bet you'll have fascinating war stories from the writerly battlefield at the end of it all!

2. A healthy writer tries new things and isn't afraid to fail.

The way I reacted to my self-imposed pressure last summer was to get stressed. And when I was stressed, I was afraid of all things NEW.

I spent so much time trimming my novella down to a lean, mean 20,000 words. What if these new subplots I'm now adding are just fluff?

[via Pinterest]
I've never written about nightmarish creatures like these before. What if this new dark side to the story is totally ruining it?

It's taking a lot longer for my protagonists to get to know each other than it did in the old version. What if this new length is slow and boring?


Even last winter, as I started rewriting my dragon/portal fantasy/YA novel The Prophet's Key, all the new things I was writing scared me. I doubted my ability to handle a large cast, doubted the strength of the story, doubted the balance between fantasy world and earth, etc.

But when you write from a healthy place, you know when to take the pressure off. (Yes, there's good pressure and bad pressure.) You know it's okay to set aside all expectations and just try something new for the heck of it. Will you mess it up? Probably! But that's what first drafts--or rewrites--or edits--are for! The great thing about writing is that it's not at all like brain surgery. You don't have to get it right the first time.

So stop being afraid of failure, and just write that crazy, new, wonderful idea. On that note . . .

3. A healthy writer writes in his grow zone, not danger zone.

A year ago, my leadership college class spent a weekend at camp doing team-building activities, learning to trust each other. One thing I learned there is that everyone has three zones: your comfort zone, your grow zone, and your danger zone.

If you're not trying new things like we just talked about, you're safely within your comfort zone. And it's okay to be there--just as long as you're not there all the time.

On the other hand, if you're pushing, pushing, pushing yourself to write nonstop; or if you really have bitten off more "newness" than you can chew and the crumbling failure is making you depressed or anxious about writing . . . you're working out of your danger zone.

See, in your comfort zone, you can't fall. You're steady. In your danger zone, you're overextended and unbalanced, and a fall can be damaging. But the happy middle, your grow zone, is where you're pushed just enough to keep growing, but not so far that you can't bounce back when things go haywire.

Know your limits. Push them--please do! But don't hurl yourself headlong at a limit that you know is a brick wall.* A concussed writer can't write well. And we want you writing, okay?

probably don't throw yourself at mirrors either please

*At least not yet. You may very well smash that wall to smithereens sometime down the road--but it will be when you're ready.

4. A healthy writer paces herself.

"Write every day!" they chant. "One thousand words a day! Five thousand! WRITE A NOVEL IN A MONTH. EVERY SINGLE MONTH OF THE YEAR. GO!"

Hey, if you have fingers of steel and a crazy active imagination and all the time in the world, go for it! But a lot of us . . . just aren't that fast. At least not all the time. While a consistent writing habit is a necessity for those wanting to get published--and a nice discipline to cultivate for hobbyist writers--the logistics can and should look different for each person.

[via Pinterest]
Some of you write a novel in a month (okay, a lot of you do that during November!). Some of you take years. Some write thousands of words a day, sometimes thousands of words in an hour. Some of you produce a paragraph here and there, then take a week to ruminate on the story's direction.

All of those are valid.

You know your schedule, the best time of day to write, how much percolating time your ideas need, how many other things are taking up space in your brain. You know you. So take all those posts and articles about writing every day with a grain of salt. Writing in your grow zone has a lot to do with learning how to pace yourself!

And you know what? Your pace will not stay consistent all your life. There will be times when you can go faster and harder--times when you certainly should. There will also be seasons when you need to relax, fit writing in where you can, and not worry about the slow progress. If you're in this for the long haul, you can't afford to run yourself ragged.

(My pal Savannah just posted yesterday on the importance of taking a break! Check it out!)

5. A healthy writer reads.

Yeah, yeah, you hear this one all the time. That might be because it's true!

You need to keep your creative tank full! That may include inspiring music, your favorite shows, movies with great storylines, enjoying nature, looking at art, spending time on other creative hobbies besides writing, etc. All of those things can keep the pump primed. But reading is unlike all the others in that you're absorbing how another author puts words together, builds a plot, reveals character--ALL OF IT. A strong reading habit does wonders for your own work, especially when you read widely and deeply!

6. A healthy writer invests time in learning the craft.

Do you ever get so caught up in writing that it all starts to sound the same to you? It starts to feel dull, uninspired, unoriginal, and suspiciously like everything else you've ever written?

It might be you've forgotten to keep learning. The more you learn, the more you find out how much you don't know! Find yourself some books on the writing craft. Read quality blogs written by people further down the road than you. Talk to other writers of all ages, in all stages of the journey. Ask authors questions. (They're busy people, but a lot of them seem to love helping other writers!) Go to a conference if you can. Find a critique group, online or in person--because the truth is, even the very best writers need feedback so they can work on their blind spots. Whatever you do, find some ways to invest in yourself! Your writing will thank you.

And as you're filling yourself with more knowledge, make sure to put it into practice. (Going back to trying new things again!) A lake with inflow and no outflow grows stagnant very quickly.

7. A healthy writer is on an adventure.

You'd think that a girl with a blog named Adventure Awaits would be a thrill-seeking, danger-loving, Middle Earth-walking, questing sort of person. (Well, you might think that. Or you might think it's the most unoriginal name for a blog you've ever read, and you may not be far from right.)

Truth is, I really am a hobbit at heart, quite content to stay in my little hobbit hole where things are warm and familiar and quiet.

I get that way about my writing more often than I should. Because if all I write is what's easy and familiar to me, that gets boring. Sometimes I'm blessed with a proverbial Gandalf to give me a kick in the pants, but oftentimes, I have to be my own Gandalf. There are adventures to be had!

And yes, this sounds a lot like number 2 all over again--but it's more than trying something new. It's having fun while doing it. Why do you write? Maybe there are too many stories in your head yelling to be let out, so you write for release. Maybe it's a hobby to keep your mind sharp. Maybe you have lofty dreams of changing the world with your books one day. But I would hope that most of you--all of you--write because you enjoy it.

I love writing. I love the worlds I get to create, the countless journeys on which I embark, themes I explore, the characters whose stories weave with my own. Yet so many times, I slip into an unhealthy place where I stop loving it.

Why on earth would I knowingly do that to myself?

So here I am, giving myself and each of you permission to HAVE FUN.

Figure out what you love to write. My friend Christine had a great tip in her most recent Beautiful Books post. (Definitely check out her blog, Musings of an Elf, if you haven't yet!) She said, "Don't forget to write the things you love."

It's silly, but I DO forget to add in my favorite kinds of characters, plot elements, and twists. I even forget to write the kind of scenes I love, because I can get so wrapped up in structure and rules and doing it right. So let's make the most of every story! Let's write about the things that make our hearts beat faster and our fingers fly over the keyboard and our minds take flight!

Write an adventure, dear soul.

(If you need some inspiration to start figuring out what you love to write, here's my own list.)

8. A healthy writer covers it all in prayer.

[via Pinterest]
I try to remember to breathe a little prayer every time I sit down at my keyboard. I also have a document set aside in which I sometimes write out those prayers, just to leave a permanent record that can encourage me in the future. Because if I truly believe that God is interested in my life and in my writing--that He in fact wants me to write--then why wouldn't I include Him in that process?

You don't have to go it alone. When you're struggling over a plot knot, or stumped about your next chapter, or lacking motivation--talk to God about it. When you're fangirling over your own characters, excited about that super intense scene coming up, or breathing a sigh of relief over finishing a project--celebrate it with God. He cares.

And He's kind of the most creative being in the UNIVERSE, so do you think He might be able to help you through your writing predicaments? Um, how about YES.

If you're like me, the writing life is inextricably tied to your spiritual life, your "real" everyday life, and your emotional life. Why can't Bible verses like these apply to your writing?

As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. (Psalm 42:1)

He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40: 3)

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36)

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6)

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

I could go on and on. The point is, if writing is part of your life, it's part of God's heart. Hold to that. Hold onto Him.

This post grew long, but I hope that something in here will nudge you one step closer to writing from a healthy place. Your writing is worth it. You are worth it.

For convenience's sake, here are the 8 ways to rediscover balance listed all together. I'm taking a page from Deborah O'Carroll's book (link leads to a fantastic post on 12 tips for depressed writers), and sharing a graphic:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Beautiful Books - "Snow White"

(Here I am, posting a day late again--sorry, everyone!)

So apparently I've been working on ECaPSSWR* for the last couple of months, but you'd hardly know it because I haven't properly introduced that messy little novella here!

*"Epically Confused and Possibly Schizophrenic Snow White Retelling." Not the final title. Ha.

But thankfully, Cait @ Paper Fury (who's publishing a book next year, hooray!) and Sky @ Further Up and Further In have Beautiful Books to help all writers everywhere introduce the world to their works in progress. Normally, the link up is called Beautiful People and focuses on specific characters, but from October to December it's all about the books themselves. Because it's NaNoWriMo season! (But you don't have to be participating in NaNo to do Beautiful Books.)

I'm not doing NaNo myself, so I'm something of a rebel in the writing community this month. I also missed October's BB post . . . So why not embrace that rebel identity, ignore the Beautiful Books rules entirely, and use last month's set of questions AND this month's set at the same time for double the fun? Right? Who's with me?

Okay. Fine. I wouldn't be that excited either. After all, nobody knows much of anything about this ECaPSSWR thing except that it involves Snow White. Well, I'm here to tell you that I don't know much more about it either. (Editing it this month is going to be so much fun. Heheh.)

Let's get on with it, shall we? Perhaps I'll gain some clarity along the way!

Beautiful Books October 2017

What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?

I'd like to say something grandiose and romantic like, "I've had this story burning in my heart for ten years, and now I finally have the chance to tell it!" In reality, it's more like I want to enter the final Rooglewood contest, Five Poisoned Apples, and I've had this idea for about three months.

Describe what your novel is about!

Here's where I run and hide, because IT'S A LOVELY LITTLE MESS AND I HAVEN'T GOT A SYNOPSIS. But I'm a bold and noble writing warrior who never backs down from a challenge, so I shall try!


Skadi wasn't born a hunter. But when tragedy forces her away from her home clan, she falls in with the seven huntsmen and soon learns how to shoot a bow and skin a deer. Yet a piece of her never got the chance to say goodbye to her old life.

When a mirror from the past draws her back across the fjord years later, she follows. Along the way, the mirror's reflections tell stories. Stories spun into strange shapes that do strange things to Skadi's mind. Meanwhile, a legendary lindwyrm stalks the woods, with its hungry gaze set on her second home--the home of the seven huntsmen.

Skadi will never let them burn, but according to the mirror, that means she must stand in the path of the flames. Mirrors never lie, people say. That may be so, but this mirror doesn't reflect the whole truth.

A bit rough, but writing that blurb did help me sharpen my view of the central conflict!

What is your book's aesthetic? Use words or photos or whatever you like!

It just so happens, I have Pinterest boards for most of my stories. And they happen to all be private boards, because I'm not the greatest at pinning down my characters' faces (pun intended), and so I have probably a dozen different people for each character. Likewise for many different settings. Those boards are all fun little messes. Buuuut I'll let you all in to the Snow White board, even if it's still a work in progress, just because I'm nice like that! You can check it out HERE.

Introduce us to each of your characters!

Skadi (Snow White): She's a tough gal, rarely squeamish, the kind with dirt on her knuckles and callouses on her palms. She tends to shoulder more than she should bear. Underneath her armor of independence, however, is a heart quivering with the thought that she'll never be enough.

Torben (the Prince): He's the youngest huntsman and Skadi's best friend. In fact, he's the one who saved her from the aforementioned tragedy in the first place, back when they were kids. He's a good shot with the bow, and his lighthearted jabs keep Skadi's smile from hiding too long.

Hackett: Former huntsman and now the leader of the Weylyn clan. Walks with a limp. Gruff as a grizzly but intensely protective.

Bruni: Oldest active huntsman, second in age only to Hackett. Wise. Doesn't talk much.

Sigmund and Osmund: Twin huntsmen, constantly bickering. Os is large, with an impressive beard. Sig is average, with impressive eyebrows. Os has a knack for pointing out the negative. Sig likes to argue just for the sake of arguing.

Alfrigg: Another huntsman, but a rather rotund one. (Pretty much the Bombur of the group.) Happy. Likes simple things. Somehow manages to bring home just as much prey as anyone else, despite is ungainly size.

Kjell: Second youngest huntsman. Skinny as a twig and fast as a rabbit. Extremely extroverted; always asks for a pal when Hackett sends him hunting.

And then there's also Skadi's deceased father, mother, and stepmother. The stepmother still needs a name, and she's the one who's mentioned the most in the story. She could be best described as glacial.

How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)

This time, I started with an undignified braindump in a fresh Word doc, in the form of bulleted lists and lots of crossed out words.

Then I discovered a way to outline that actually calculates the length of your story, thanks to author K.M. Weiland! I have this genius method to thank for finally staying under the contest's word limit! Even so, no outlining process is perfect, and my scattered thoughts resulted in a scattered first draft.

So let's commence that chocolate and howling.

What are you most looking forward to about this novel?

Fixing it!

List 3 things about your novel’s setting.

1. It's Nordic-inspired, but still fantasy, so I can make up cool trees, invent adorable creatures called burrowbirds, and say Groundsleep instead of winter or Groundwake instead of summer.
2. It's set in the same wide storyworld as The Brightest Thread! Just much further north, and decades earlier.
3. It's more primitive than any of my other fantasy settings, which is fun.

What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?

I think this is one part of the novella that's still a bit foggy. "What?" you exclaim. "Isn't the character's goal pretty much what THE WHOLE STORY HANGS ON?" Well yes. You're right. This might be why the story's having problems.

But I'm not entirely clueless.

First, Skadi wants to return to her home clan, Renshaw, to make peace with what she was forced to leave behind.

But then stuff happens--what she finds there isn't what she expected, and the mirror starts playing with her head--so then her goal changes to, "I have to defeat the lindwyrm before it decimates my other home."

Obviously it's the lindwyrm (a type of two-legged dragon) that stands in her way! Come on, guys. Did you really think I'd write a book without a dragon in it?

How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

She lets go of some of her pride and independence, realizing that it's okay to ask for help. It's okay to not do something alone. It's okay to need family.

What are your book’s themes? How do you want readers to feel when the story is over?

We tell ourselves a lot of lies, you and I. That's the heart of what this book is about. We too often swallow the lies other people say about us; but even worse, we adopt as truth the lies we spin about ourselves. And sometimes we can go for years without realizing it.

At the end of this still-untitled story, I hope readers have peeled back just one more layer of their hearts in order to confront their own lies and discover the truth.

Beautiful Books November 2017

Overall, how is your mental state, and how is your novel going?

My mental state is a cross between this:

And this:

What’s your first sentence (or paragraph)?

All stood still.

The birches, white branches stripped of most of their leaves, made not a rustle. No wind stirred. Even the hare in the middle of the clearing sat erect. Its long ears pointed straight up, and it was no longer chewing as it had a moment ago.

I held my breath. My whole body was strung taut as the bowstring I had pulled back against my jaw. The arrow's fletching tickled my cheek. I narrowed my gaze down the shaft and pointed the tip at the hare's furry white chest. One . . . two . . .

(Oops, that was three paragraphs!)

Who's your current favourite character in your novel?

Um, not Skadi, unfortunately. I think she will be once I've cleaned the manuscript up and given her personality something of a re-haul in the first half of the story!

Currently, I'd say Torben. He's not in the middle of the story much, mostly just the beginning and the end, but he's a fun contrast to Skadi's inner gloom. And he's kind of adorable and stubborn.


What do you love about your novel so far?

I love the Nordic setting because it's something new for me. I love the mirror's powers because I'm always up for story elements that play with the mind. (Plus mirrors are packed with so much imagery and interesting connotations.) I love having a motley family/crew of seven rough huntsmen, because it's a fun twist on the solitary huntsman of Snow White + the seven dwarves. I also love the  singularity of Skadi's journey. Whereas The Brightest Thread encompassed 100 years and a wide spread of characters, this story focuses on the journey of just one girl's heart.

Have you made any hilarious typos or other mistakes?

Probably some typos, but I haven't actually started editing yet, so I haven't found them. However, I did accidently forget to incorporate the poison apple element! WHICH IS KIND OF A BIG DEAL. So far, the only resemblance to the original fairytale comes in the form of huntsmen and an evil stepmother. I really wanted to add the apple in somehow, but throw a big twist into it. Good thing I've got some vague ideas for how to write that into the climax . . .

What is your favourite part to write: beginning, middle or end--and why?

In this case, I fell in and out of love during all three stages! Overall, I would say my favorite part to write is whatever part clicks right away. You get this feeling that you're on the right track, building off a decent foundation, heading in the right direction. Contrary to my complaining, I did have some of those moments. Now it's my job to go back, find them, and use them as a guide to hammer the rest of the novella into shape.

What are your writing habits? Is there a specific snack you eat? Do you listen to music? What time of day do you write best? Feel free to show us a picture of your writing space!

Snack? Music? Time of day? WRITING SPACE? What are these luxuries? I starve in silence at midnight in the corner of my dungeon!

I kid, I kid. In all honesty, I've been writing on the weekends once I catch up on homework. So the time of day is never ever set in stone. I will clarify that I write best when I don't have other things on my to-do list hanging over my head, and I prefer an earlier start over later.

I don't eat much while writing, although all the Halloween candy sitting around the house makes for good brain food. Tea is my usual choice, though! As for music, lately it's been the soundtrack from How to Train Your Dragon and Two Steps from Hell's latest album, Unleashed.

You don't want to see a picture of my writing space. It's a disaster.

How private are you about your novel while you’re writing? Do you need a cheer squad or do you work alone (like, ahem, Batman)?

Thus far, I've pretty much been pulling a Batman, which is weird for me. But now I'm finally, actually talking about this novella with you! Hooray! It kind of makes it feel more like a "real" writing project now.


What keeps you writing even when it’s hard?

A deadline. That sounds woefully uninspiring, but I LOVE the satisfaction of completing something on time! For this story, my hard deadline is December 31st--that's the contest rule. But my personal soft deadline is more like December 1st. I'd love to blaze through the editing process during the remainder of November, but we shall see!

Also lots of prayer. My family and I have been praying that I would find ways to balance my college schedule with writing and life and all those other good things. And so far, though it hasn't been easy, I've been surprised at how much writing can be packed into one or two days a week! The bursts of speed are definitely an answer to prayer.

What are your top 3 pieces of writing advice?

Top three pieces of writing advice ever? That's tough! Let's narrow this down to the top three pieces of writing advice I've been learning from this particular project.

1. Try new things, and don't be alarmed when you fumble around with them the first time or two. They're new. You haven't written this before. Keep at it, and you'll get better.

2. They always say you should compete with yourself and no one else--keep improving on your own performance. There's a lot of truth to that, I agree, but I've found that comparing this wet, wobbly-kneed, barely standing novella with the full-fledged novel that I just wrote (The Brightest Thread) isn't helping. Rather, I have to keep reminding myself to play. Have fun. Writing is oftentimes hard, but if you're not having fun overall, there's something wrong. Deadline or no deadline, you need to relax enough to enjoy the process!

3. With every story you pen, put a little piece of yourself into it somehow, and let that shadow of you struggle and fail and win inside the confines of that story. Be real on the page, even if it makes you wince at the dark corners you try to forget you have. There's light to be had there too.

Thanks for sticking around! That was a double-whammy. Hopefully it makes up for posting late. ;) How many of you are fellow Five Poisoned Apples entrants? Any tips for liking your own protagonist?

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Subplots and Storylines - October 2017

I'm always amazed at the huge spectrum of events and emotions that one month can hold.

Gratitude & Contentment

  • Celebrating Thanksgiving with family a couple times over
  • Stuffing made with mandarin oranges and cranberries (the best in the world)
  • Yummy pie
  • Remembering that I don't have to feel thankful to be thankful

Stress vs. Peace

  • Lots of homework, which is always an ebb and flow
  • Working on several group projects
  • Surviving midterm exams (which was actually more relaxing than a regular week of school, oddly enough--I booked time off work, so besides sitting for a 1-2 hour test each day, I had the rest of my time to study and do whatever the ham and eggs I wanted) (that felt soooo good) (and I actually did pretty well on the exams, yay)

Sorrow & Hope

  • Attending the funeral of a dear mentor's wife. She passed away too young; her love story with her husband was too sweet and strong to be cut short . . . and yet we celebrated her life, singing "Amazing Grace" and "Beautiful Things" with tears and smiles both.
  • In times like these--when we wish the tale had taken a different turn and don't understand why it didn't--we cannot give up what we know for what we don't know.

Joy & Camaraderie

  • A simple coffee date with a close friend
  • An evening out with my church's young adult group

The contrasts aren't always this stark, but this October brought with it something new every week, it seemed. Mostly good things, some growing opportunities, and one difficult event. I'm thankful once again that no matter how things change and no matter what life throws our way, God is unchangeable.

Storylines on the Screen

Yes, I watched more of The Flash season 3 and rewatched more of Once Upon a Time season 3. I sound like a broken record by now, I'm sure. Moving on!

The Lego Ninjago Movie
The first Lego Movie is still my favorite, but I did like the Ninjago one more than The Lego Batman Movie! (And I'm wondering how many times they can put "Lego" and "Movie" into their titles before people start mixing them up.)

Anyway, it was a lighthearted flick with a generous dose of humor and quotable quotes. We went to the local theater to watch it, and I splurged on popcorn because I never do that--and I figured, if I was putting homework aside to go to the movies, I might as well really go to the movies.

Also there was a cat. A real, live-action cat in a world of animated Lego people. Pretty great. And Jay's comments are still my favorite. "This is my new least favorite place."

Spider-Man Homecoming
It came out on DVD recently, so of course I had to rewatch it! And it was just as awesome as the first time, even if I saw it on a much smaller screen.

The Scorch Trials
Another rewatch! My sisters have read/are reading The Maze Runner books, so they had great fun pointing out all the things the moviemakers got wrong. (What else is new, right?) That ending still frustrates me like crazy! I'm pretty sure The Death Cure is coming out in the near-ish future, so it's good I refreshed my memory on the plot.

The Giver
I read the book a while back, but this was my first time seeing the movie. It wasn't quite as good as I expected--a bit of a step down from other dystopian films like The Hunger Games or Divergent. And Fiona's character annoyed me. But it was still neat to see the book in visual form, and I found the ending of the movie more satisfying than the book!

Subplots on the Page

Beyond the Gateway and Reaper Reborn by Bryan Davis

I reviewed both of these amazing books last week! If you missed it, check it out HERE. Bryan Davis also reposted my reviews on his own blog HERE.

Sadly, I didn't finish any other books besides those two this month.

Storylines of My Own Creation

Is it just me, or have I been pretty quiet about my writing world lately? Maybe it's because I still don't know what I'm doing with my work-in-progress. Heh.

But during the month of October, I wrote 12,000 words in my Snow White novella (for the Five Poisoned Apples contest)*, which means I finished the first draft! I wasn't sure if I'd manage to meet that goal before November hit, but midterm week gave me the time to write 8k of those words. So grateful for that!

*The story still doesn't have a title. I think I might call it "Epically Confused and Possibly Schizophrenic Snow White Retelling" and leave it at that, because I changed things halfway through and didn't stop to edit the beginning. xD

And you know what else? ECaPSSWR (that's Epically Confused and Possibly Schizophrenic Snow White Retelling abbreviated in case you missed the footnote, pal) clocked in at 19,906 words. I FINALLY LEARNED MY LESSON. I FINISHED IT UNDER THE MAXIMUM WORDCOUNT FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE HISTORY OF MY LIFE.

Take a look at these first drafts, all written for the Rooglewood contests, which require entries to be 5,000-20,000 words long:

The Glass Girl (Cinderella) - 21,689 words
Blood Rose (Beauty and the Beast) - 21,224 words
The Brightest Thread (Sleeping Beauty) - 29,933 words
Untitled (Snow White) - 19,906 words

I. Am. So. Pleased. Because honestly, if I ended up with a 30k first draft like TBT, I'm not sure I'd be able to wrangle it into shape before the December 31st deadline. Not with college going on. Buuuut I know I have different problems with ECaPSSWR. Things like that schizophrenic plot I mentioned, a whiny protagonist I didn't even like half the time, forgetting to add an important fairy tale element to the ending, and overall choppiness.

But that's what editing is for, isn't it?

In the meantime, I also received even more feedback from beta readers of The Brightest Thread (talking about the current novel right now, not the old novella). Guys, I have some of the best betas EVER with this project. I've been so blessed and encouraged by their praise, and challenged and motivated by their critiques. I'm already eager to start implementing their feedback sometime in the New Year! (Which is two months away . . . excuse me, but who gave 2017 permission access to the HyperSpeed 3000 button?!)

Going forward, I plan to edit ECaP . . . you know what, that's too long to type and I'm getting lazy. Snow White. I plan to edit Snow White this month and submit it so that December is free of writing deadlines. November is a great month to push myself, because I'm surrounded by epic NaNoWriMo participants who are surviving on coffee and wordsprints alone, and their insanity creative energy is catching!

Oh, and one more thing! This month, I have been bombarded by SO MANY IDEAS for things I cannot yet disclose. I think business school is actually helping, you guys. Somehow in the quagmire of income statements and supply/demand graphs and platitudes about marketing, another side of my brain is waking up. And it wants out.

basically me
Wait, no, that sounds terribly gory. The ideas in that part of my brain want out! Sheesh, Tracey.

Everything's in that fragile bubble state of newness, so I doubt I'll have time to develop those ideas until December or January . . . but I'm hoping that I can start creating these secret projects and unveiling them to you all sooner rather than later! This is going to be fun, trust me.

So that's October in a not-so-small nutshell. How was your month? Are you doing NaNo? (I'm jealous if you are!) Are you entering Five Poisoned Apples? And if you're the one who gave this year a HyperSpeed 3000 button, confess now, or I'll send my army of time dragons to your doorstep.