Saturday, January 13, 2018

What Lies on the Horizon

This new year is something I've been thinking about a lot. Not just in terms of goals and resolutions, but in terms of where my heart is and what lies on the horizon. And it's finally time to catch some of those whirring, buzzing, humming fragments of thoughts. Time to string them together into something to share with you, because I'm a firm believer in the strength we can find in each other's journeys. I wouldn't blog if I didn't think that somehow, some way, the tangling threads of our stories matter to each other.

Last January, I set some lofty goals, writing-wise. (You can see them in detail HERE, if you're so inclined.) Another thing in which I am a believer is the value of looking forward to set goals, and looking back to see how far you've come. So before we look ahead, let's pause and turn around for a moment.

2017 goals

Finish the first draft of The Prophet's Key. Nope. Didn't make it. But I added 17,000 words to the rewrite I'd started in 2016, bringing the total word count up to 100k. I ground to a halt there, realizing just how bloated and huge the story was becoming. A course correction was needed, but at that point, leadership college was ramping up like crazy and I decided to put the project aside.

Began expanding The Brightest Thread into a novel. Check!

Go to Realm Makers. Another check! That was an incredible dream come true, one I hope to see come true again this summer.

Write, edit, and submit a story for Rooglewood Press's contest. Surprisingly, check again. Mirrors Never Lie is on some judge's desk right now, I imagine.

Complete the first draft of The Brightest Thread and do a round or two of edits so that it's poised to move forward (aka maybe get published) in 2018. First draft--check. A round or two-ish of edits earns another check. And is the novel "poised to move forward" now? I'd say it's poised to move into another round of edits, that's for sure, and then . . . well, we'll get to that in a minute.

Finish The Creative Way writing course by Ted Dekker. Um . . . no. This kept getting pushed back due to one reason or another, and I still have a handful of lessons to complete.

Possibly begin querying agents for TBT. I dipped my toes in the water by pitching it at the Realm Makers conference, but subsequently sent it to beta readers, knowing the novel needed more work. So querying didn't happen last year.

All in all, four out of seven, plus some progress on a couple of uncompleted goals, isn't bad!

Here's where I would turn my hopeful attention toward this year's list of aspirations . . . But again, we'll get to that soon.

The past two Januarys, I've set aggressive timelines for my writing goals. And there is a place for those kinds of plans. I don't regret pushing myself past my limits. Yes, I danced on the edge of burnout some weeks, but I learned valuable lessons about pacing myself, working hard, writing when the inspiration is gone, working under deadlines, juggling responsibilities, and what healthy (and unhealthy) creative practices look like. It was great!

But this year, I've realized I need to recognize what season of life I'm in. I am a student. And I won't be in school forever, so rather than resist the demanding schedule and the responsibilities, I want to thrive. That means balance. That means reframing school from a burden into a passion. That means taking care of myself by carving out pleasure reading and making sure I get enough sleep. That means soaking in time with family and saying yes to friends when I can (instead of no, sorry, I'm busy, come back when I graduate).

But the biggest dream I have for 2018, the one thing that I am finally allowing to overshadow everything else . . . is my friendship with God.

It's a little crazy, how even a year of Bible/leadership college didn't cause me to become more intentional about spending time with Him. I read my Bible every morning because we were given class time for it--which was so good, don't get me wrong--but the habit somehow didn't transfer to my home life. In fact, ever since leaving high school and wading into the big, wide world of adulthood, I feel like my devotion time has been irregular.

But busyness is a lousy excuse. (And please, before I go further, don't take this as a guilt trip for yourself! I simply want to be honest with what's been going through my head lately!) I am a quester, a pursuer, a dreamer, and a doer by nature. Give me a goal, and I will plot, list, track, and work my way toward it, for better or for worse. (This is not always a positive, guys.) But being a doer is little good if I'm not doing the right things in the right order. If I can devote myself to a novel I'm writing and show up day after day even if the well runs dry, can't I put the same energy into flipping open my Bible every day?

Yet this is about more than doing--although I do want to redirect that trait--this is about a relationship.

This is about Jesus being the first name on my lips in the morning and the last thought before I fall asleep.

This is about a dialogue with my Creator, the Lover of my soul.

This is about looking for Him in the everyday moments.

This is about being aware that He is here, always, and even if emotions run their own course I am never cut off from His love.

This is about a single-minded, single-hearted pursuit.

This is about seeking one kingdom above all others, and yet--

I don't know how to get there. I want to, badly, but it's not something you work up on your own or even work towards at all. It's less about my hands doing something, and more about my heart doing something. The only labor involved is that of laboring to "enter into that rest."

What I know right now is that every time I have hungered for more of God and cried out for a deeper knowing of Him, He has responded. And every time, all it took was asking . . . and then putting one foot in front of the other with my eyes open for an answer. Another thing I know right now is that I miss digging into the Word.

And those two things I know for sure? They're interconnected.

So my planning/listing/doing side is happy to have discovered a really cool Bible reading plan in the back of my new copy of The Voice translation. It's a plan that takes me slowly through the Bible in three years instead of one. That's exactly what I need right now, just a quiet, thoughtful walk through Scripture. It's not even chronological--in the past two weeks, I've dipped in and out of Genesis, Job, Psalms, and Proverbs. This plan takes up only 40 weeks a year, leaving time to investigate some suggested readings for Easter and Advent. So it's not a high pressure thing, and so far I'm loving it.

I'm journaling as I go, just jotting down whatever means something to me today, rather than trying to encompass everything as if I'm writing a scholarly essay. I'm rediscovering glimpses of this great narrative God has been weaving throughout history, and I'm stumbling upon little bits of it that are woven into my own life today.

Am I a changed person? Am I on some spiritual mountain right now? No. But this is slowly, surely being built into a habit, and I hope that the more I do it, the more it will pervade my thoughts and attitudes throughout the day.

It's a simple thing: seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things--all these dreams and lists and goals--will be added to you. This year, I want to actually try that, and not just fool myself into thinking I'm already doing it.

If you're anticipating some grandiose announcement of a hiatus, that's not coming! I'm not scrapping anything entirely, just shifting some priorities around. Like I said, I need to give myself room to enjoy my school studies and get back into a regular daily time with God.

So for the next few months, writing is taking a backseat. It's not out of the car entirely, but it's not the driver right now. Here's what I'm aiming for:

January-April: Slowly start organizing the beta feedback on The Brightest Thread. Possibly start working on a secret project I hinted at a couple months ago, which is still stewing in my mind. Possibly try my hand at some flash fiction to submit to magazines and whatnot. I'm giving myself the freedom to be sporadic and to take time off whenever needed. This is going to be playtime, not work time.

May-August: Edit The Brightest Thread. Assemble a list of literary agents and actually start querying. Attend Realm Makers in St. Louis (hopefully!!!) and pitch TBT again there. Finish The Creative Way course. Get that secret project off the ground for real. Maybe even make some tweaks to the blog to spiff it up and make it look more professional. It'll be summer, which means there will be time to power through some goals!

September-December: Totally depends on how the previous goals are going. Likely, I'll continue querying TBT, working on the secret project, and who knows? I might even be in a good spot to start casually planning my next novel. I'll be back in school, so I may ease off a bit again, though.

that's our heart-to-heart for today, friends.

I kind of hesitated to talk about the deep stuff, because I know things like prayer and devotions are highly personal (and I've been guilt-tripped by well-meaning writers and bloggers before, which I wanted to avoid here), and maybe you're not into that to begin with . . . But I think it's a good and healthy thing to be honest with each other. We've all been through dry spells, all struggled to form good habits in this area. And I couldn't talk about my writing goals without talking about why my approach is different this year.

What are YOU aiming for and dreaming about for 2018? Big or small, deep or more superficial, I'd love to hear it!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Books of 2017

It is a truth universally acknowledged that bookdragons are nosy little creatures, always snuffling around each other's shelves to see what friends are reading, buying, and reviewing.
I say that fondly, being a nosy bookdragon myself. And I'm counting on the fact that most of you are of the same species, because here's a look at all the books I read in 2017, with miniature reviews to boot! Aren't I a helpful dragon?


Knife // R.J. Anderson
reread // better than I remembered // fairies // loss of magic // musings on the nature of art // human interaction // big tree
The Purpose Driven Church // Rick Warren
how to foster healthy church growth // rather textbook-ish // better for pastors, maybe?
The Lightning Thief // Rick Riordan
hilarious // best chapter titles ever // camp half blood // grumpy adults // powerful kids // the humor, though
Blue Lily, Lily Blue // Maggie Stiefvater
pretty prose // Blue is relatable // poor Noah // wandering plot, in a good way and a bad way



The Five Love Languages (Singles Edition) // Gary Chapman
practical // excellent advice for how to love people better


Winter // Marissa Meyer
best series finale in the history of ever // crazy Winter // space // everyone gets separated // all the sass // putting rice in Cinder's head // heartbreaking stuff // did I mention best ending ever?
The Spirit Contemporary Life // Leon Fontaine
down to earth // inspiring // reaching people with God's love can be so natural
The Shack // William P. Young
meh // heavy on the sermon, light on the story


Storm Siren // Mary Weber
incredibly relatable protagonist // deep themes // cool world // the guy smells like "pine and honey and sunbeams" but shush, that's normal // crazy horses // tattoos // lightning storms
Outriders // Kathryn Mackel
reread // nifty world // tech fused with medieval-like lifestyle // sporadically inspiring
Trackers // Kathryn Mackel
same as above // decent, but should've had a sequel to wrap things up
The DNA of Relationships // Gary Smalley
changed my life // relational hurt springs from a vicious cycle of fear // be the bigger person // communication


Finally // Wendy Mass
twelve-year-old drama // cute // killer rabbit // everything goes wrong
Crazy Dangerous (audiobook) // Andrew Klavan
reread in audio format // creepy and endearing at the same time // magic Sam Hopkins // trains // bad choices // eerie girl // intense ending // awesome narrator
The Purpose Driven Life // Rick Warren
reread // sorry, not my cup of tea // a few good lessons, though // learned the most from studying the parts with which I disagree
Green Rider // Kristen Britain
classic high fantasy // horses // fantastical creatures // Karigan needs to get a backbone // twisty ending // will probably continue series


The Shadow Throne // Jennifer A. Nielsen
kingdoms at war // the sass // friends // "catastrophic levels of bad behavior" // saw the ending coming // loved it anyway // smashing finish to the Ascendance Trilogy
The Reluctant Godfather // Allison Tebo
delightful // quirky characters // fluffy chocolate cake // Burndee is Howl with a mixing spoon, basically // quotable humor
The Raven King // Maggie Stiefvater
more pretty prose and a pretty cover to match // Gansey // social agenda, no thank you // too much swearing // ultimately a disappointing conclusion


Scorpia // Anthony Horowitz
secret agents // double agents // exotic locations // fun Mission Impossible vibes // gadgets // narrow escapes
Solitary (audiobook) // Travis Thrasher
reread (except in audio format) // creepy little town // creepy little high school // creepy pastor // old vinyl records // no cell service // dark beginning to an ultimately hopeful series
Reapers // Bryan Davis
dystopian Chicago // escorting souls to the afterlife // ethical dilemmas // prison // standing up for the defenseless


Ink and Bone // Rachel Caine
Library of Alexandria didn't burn // withheld knowledge // magic // Oxford // black market // classmates // the muddiness of war
The Penderwicks // Jeanne Birdsall
childhood whimsy // summer // romping escapades // curious neighbors // butterfly wings // Hound // friendship
The Fatal Tree // Stephen R. Lawhead
the universe is shrinking // nobody panic // British loveliness // ley lines // sprawling adventures // redemption
Some Kind of Happiness // Claire Legrand
blue days // depression // finding wholeness through the Everwood // cousins // summertime // "giving up is not an option. and if you have to keep going, you might as well smile while doing it."
The Five Times I Met Myself // James L. Rubart
regret // what if you could give advice to your younger self? // consequences // second chances
The Beast of Talesend // Kyle Robert Schultz
fairytales in 1920's-esque world // detective  work // brothers // beastliness // spunk and humor // throwing rolls at people's heads


Spindle Fire // Lexa Hillyer
sisterhood // sight and touch and speech tithed away to fairies // snow // intrigue // travel // at times enchanting, at others stilted
Five Magic Spindles // Rachel Kovaciny, Kathryn McConaughy, Grace Mullins, Michelle Pennington, Ashley Stangl
heartwarming Old West // exotic eastern-like mythology // glowing ghosts and crazy castles and also a chicken // classic romance and dragons // sci-fi tombs and virtue names


Beyond the Gateway // Bryan Davis
ramping up the suspense // I am so hooked // the Gateway // corrupt authority figures // radiation // motorcycle // more ethical dilemmas // cliff-hanger
Reaper Reborn // Bryan Davis
exhilarating action // even worse ethical dilemmas // fires and disasters // manipulation // battle of wits and morals // who to trust? // aftermath


Prodigy Prince // Natasha Sapienza
colorful world // epic superpowers // evil shapeshifters // a prince and his sentinels // fast paced
The Tomb of the Sea Witch // Kyle Robert Schultz
mermaids // Nick goes undercover as a teacher // chaos and hilarity // the Mythfits // grouchy dragon // so many twists // "I don't suppose you have any chalk?"
A Time to Die // Nadine Brandes
a countdown, obviously // wolves and crazy people and trains and cities and wilderness // confusion // finding purpose // made me think a lot
A Midsummer Night's Dream // William Shakespeare
capricious fairies // double-crossed lovers // forest // Puck // comedy of errors // love looks not with the eyes // amusingly uneducated folks putting on a play


Hollow City // Ransom Riggs
peculiar children // long quest // rescue the bird // war-torn London // killer bees // gypsies // creepy wights // another cliff-hanger
The Phantom Tollbooth // Norton Juster
philosophical and charming // words versus numbers // common sense // a watchdog, a humbug, and a boy in a car
Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King // William Joyce
Santa is a Russian bandit king with a soft spot for children // magical village // moonbeams // nightmare creatures // a merry spectral boy // North's compass always points to himself, of course
The Maze Runner // James Dashner
no one tells Thomas anything // lots of running // Newt is his awesome, grouchy self // unremarkable writing but exciting plot // the moral of the story is that boys like food and insults


This year I read 40 books, amounting to 13,119 pages! (That's not counting the six college textbooks I finished or the one nonfiction book on leadership I'm still reading.)
Here's the breakdown on genres:
It's no surprise that once again, fantasy dominates! I am, however, surprised that I read no romance or historical fiction like in previous years. And there's more nonfiction here than I have ever read in a single year, thanks to leadership college. Oh, and hidden among those listed categories are four rereads, two audiobooks (also new for me), and four indie books! I'm rather pleased to have upped my indie game, which was woefully nonexistent before 2017.

(By my estimate, I also bought or was given about 38 new books! Yikes! Some I read this year, but most are on my TBR. At this rate, I may never catch up!)

According to Goodreads, my average rating this year was 4.4 stars--coincidentally, the same as it was the year before. Either I'm too kind with my ratings, or I just tend to read really good books???
Most-read authors: 3 by Bryan Davis, 2 by Kyle Robert Schultz, 2 by Maggie Stiefvater, and 2 by Kathryn Mackel.
Favorite new-to-me authors: Rick Riordan, Mary Weber, Jeanne Birdsall, Kyle Robert Schultz, and Nadine Brandes! All of whom have lots of other books I need to dig into this year, come to think of it . . .
Least favorite book: Um, probably a toss-up between The Shack and The Raven King. Neither one was completely horrendous, but the former was poorly written and the latter was a soup of disappointment flavored with nice writing.
Favorite books: Dear me, how do I choose? There were quite a few really good ones this year! All right, if I forced myself to narrow it down, I would say . . .
  • Winter
  • Crazy Dangerous
  • Ink and Bone
  • The Fatal Tree
  • The Penderwicks
  • Five Magic Spindles
  • The Tomb of the Sea Witch
  • A Time to Die
  • The Phantom Tollbooth
  • the entire Reapers trilogy
Ahem. I did not just list a quarter of the books I read this year, noooo . . .

All in all, it was a good reading year! I would have liked to have read more, but much of what I did read was satisfying, and I did top last year's total by five books. I also digested some nonfiction, discovered some new series and wrapped up some old ones, and spent half my time in the wonderful world of fantasy.

Okay, bookdragons, now tell me: what were YOUR best books of 2017?