Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Subplots and Storylines - June 2015

I have accidently discovered time travel. How else could I have ended up on June 30, 2015 so quickly? Because, excuse me, last time I checked, June was just starting. So my theory is that, in my sleep, somebody threw me into a time machine and I ended up here.


Okay, no, June was just so full and intense and amazing that it zoomed right by. But the time machine sounds way cooler.

Work has jumped from moderately busy to almost-fulltime-how-DO-adults-do-it, and back to moderately busy again. I had a little stretch in which I worked six out of seven days. Great for the paycheck; a stretch for my hobbit (read: I love home) self. But I can already see personal growth, so that's fantastic!

And I have been writing, but not nearly as much as I wanted/expected to. My writing progress notebook tells me I only wrote eight days this month. The result: a whoppin' 5800 words collectively. Let's hope July cooperates better, yes? I worked a little bit on book two early this month, but then, of course, that Rooglewood contest was announced and of course I had to start brainstorming for it! (I just realized that I have enough to say about that process to fill another blog post. Maybe in a week or two?)

Anyway, it's going to have a very classic fairy tale sort of feel, but I've got a few twists stewing in the ol' inspiration bog. As of now, I only have the first two chapters written. But my goal is to have the first draft finished before the end of July! When I set that goal, that broke down to an average of 500 words a day. So it's quite doable. I'm just . . . heheh, a little behind at the moment.

Speaking of writerly things, I read some good books too!

The Chance by Karen Kingsbury: a heartrending story of forgiveness and restoring relationships. Allegiant by Veronica Roth: as I have stated before, I have no words for how this series ended. There were aspects of the series I disliked, but all in all, it was a great ride! And excuse me while I scrape my heart off the floor. The Anatomy of a Miracle by Dr. James B. Richards: I've been going through this one slowly, and happened to finish this month. Really eye-opening! So many things just finally clicked for me.

Eyes Wide Open by Ted Dekker: Wow. How does this guy manage to write such mindblowing stories? On one level, it's a creepy, suspenseful tale of how 17-year-old Christy Snow and her friend Austin are mistaken for psych patients and get trapped in the ward--and on another level, it's a sucker punch right to the heart, with raw messages on identity and perception. Go read it. Right now.

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry: A quick dystopian read, and pretty neat too. I liked the worldbuilding, and how you could tell a person's age by how many syllables were in their name. This is a sequel to The Giver, but I haven't quite figured out the connection yet. Maybe the next two books will tie them together . . . ?

Life things. Those happened too. The first half of the month, I was "catching a healing" (as I like to call it) from a cold. So were the rest of my siblings. And then mid-month, my grandma developed an infection that resulted in multiple trips to the hospital and many hours waiting for doctors. So thankful that it didn't end up being too serious. She's well on the way to full recovery now!

A couple weeks ago, I went to the city with two close friends of mine for a girl's day out. We went mini-golfing, which I haven't done in years . . . went shopping and tried on pretty dresses . . . had a fancy dessert worth wearing heels for . . . had a BBQ supper at one girl's place and then watched Pride and Prejudice together. Such a wonderful day! We had an amazing time. I always feel uplifted after hanging out with them.

(Now I see what the big deal is about Mr. Darcy.)
Just last week, one of those two girls and I went out for supper at a great new restaurant in town. She's moving to Mexico in a matter of days, so having that one last (for now) outing together was perfect.

And I was going to get some more writing done yesterday and the day before, but . . . I succumbed to the pull of a story I'm beta reading, written by Mirriam Neal--an insanely talented girl with a penchant for heartbreaking backstories and vibrant characters. Needless to say, I was glued to her Alice in Wonderland retelling, This Curious Madness, and could. Not. Leave. But I caught up on roughly twenty chapters. Yippee!

Random other thing about this month: we painted our front door. No longer is it white--it now gleams burnt orange. Our home exterior renos that we've been slowly working on are looking more and more complete. Maybe I'll post a picture of that eye-popping door once the second coat is done.

So that was June. A conglomeration of books, coughing, social outings, paint, general busyness, and a dash of writing. How was your month? Any plans for July? Have you set any goals for yourself, writing or otherwise?

I will leave you with a collage of the gorgeous flowers blooming at my place. May your eyes be open to see the beauties God is displaying right in front of you, even through the veils of sorrow or weariness.

And to all my fellow Canadians, in anticipation of tomorrow:

Happy Canada Day!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

On Dystopias

I can’t help it. I analyze books.

It may have started out as an intentional thing, but these days, I can’t help but pick stories apart. I used to think such a habit would ruin the pleasure of reading, yet I’ve found that, for me, it only adds to the experience. With most books I sink into, I automatically look for what works, what doesn’t work, why something does what it does. Why do I love this character? Why does this other one fall flat? Why does the pacing feel off? What made that plot twist so incredibly surprising?

Not only do I find myself studying books, I find myself studying genres, too. What makes me love fantasy so much? Why is dystopian so popular? I look at the categories from my own personal viewpoint as a reader, and also try to see it from the perspective of a wide audience.

I don’t know—maybe it’s the writer in me.

I was thinking about dystopias the other day. I’d just finished Allegiant (OH MY GOODNESS I HAVE NO WORDS) and thoughts on the ending led me down a broken concrete trail to the idea of dystopias in general. I don’t know if it’s coming or going, that trend, but it has produced some insanely popular stuff. The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, etc.

So what’s the appeal?

I’m sure that answer is as multi-faceted as the genre’s readers. But a whole lot of the fans are teens. And maybe all those teens identify with Katniss, who’s forced into something she never wanted. Who can’t trust those in authority, or even the friends around her. Maybe we readers see Tris, struggling with identity and a choice that will determine her entire future, and we feel, “Yeah, that’s me too.” We watch Thomas try desperately to figure out where the blazes he is, and who put him there, and what he’s supposed to do . . . and those questions resonate.

Because those are our questions.

“What am I going to do with my life?”

“What will I choose?”

“Who can I trust?”

“Why am I here?”

We reach for independence, sometimes too quickly, and strain against the bonds of childhood. The fictional cast of characters strives to break the bonds of a despotic government.

We see myriad choices—big ones—looming in our futures, and we wonder, doubt, panic, analyze, dream. The characters’ big choices mirror our own, but in a warped mirror that expands and extrapolates those decisions. A city rests on the choice; lives depend on the action taken.

We look around at our world, the dimensions of which have suddenly exploded, and we feel increasingly small. The characters peel back layers of story and discover all is not as they once thought.

This relevance can be true of any story, any genre. These tales echo in the chambers of our hearts because on a certain plane, they are real. They are our very own stories, played out with different names, different locations, different circumstances . . . yet with all too familiar themes.

And so when Katniss fires a well-aimed arrow, we cheer. When Tris faces her deepest fears, we pump our fists. The victories of these characters help us realize, “I can too.”

In a progressively secluded society, where we can so easily hide behind screens, it is even easier to feel that we are alone in our struggles. That we must be the only ones going through this. In books we find companions with whom we empathize. A poor substitute for real friendship, I suppose, but nonetheless encouraging. Somebody else out there feels the way I feel. They are facing worse, and yet they still get up in the morning, they still press on. They lose and fail and shatter into a million pieces, but they put themselves back together . . . and they make it.

I can too.

Herein lies one of the mysterious powers of story—to use an untruth to reveal truth. To use fiction to shed light on reality. Through fabricated hardships, a story comforts us in our trials, and inspires us with the courage to walk through to the other side as a stronger person.

Yes, dystopias feed on the fears of today and paint grim pictures of tomorrow; of a fallen race, a broken planet, a corrupted government. Yes, dystopian authors sometimes write with a societal or environmental critique in mind.

But under the agendas, we might find sparks to feed our own dying flames. In the bleak landscapes, we can rediscover hope. And that, I think, is the reason we are so enraptured with these fractured tales.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Return of the 777 Writing Challenge

Over a month ago, I became one of the "seven souls doomed to be tagged" over at Stori Tori's Blog. The reason I waited so long to walk to my doom was because . . . well, I had no project to drag with me. I had just used book one for this tag, and book two wasn't exactly at a good stage for it. (I'd prefer to post a snippet of current writing, as opposed to terrible, three-years-old writing.)

But I am happily going to my doom now, because, ta-da, my entry for Rooglewood's Five Enchanted Spindles contest is being written!

So. Onto the rules of doom.
The 777 challenge requires you go to Page 7 of your work-in-progress, scroll down to Line 7 and share the next 7 lines in a blog post. Once you have done this, you can tag 7 other bloggers to do the same with their work-in-progress.
My entry is yet untitled, which makes for clumsy reference. "Five Enchanted Spindles entry" or "Sleeping Beauty retelling" don't quite roll off the tongue. But I'm sure something will float to the surface of my inspiration bog, and I shall wash all the boggy goop off of it and give it a nice home at the beginning of my Word document.

Ahem. On with the show. This scene is from the perspective of Aleida (pronounced Ah-LIE-dah), the fairy steward of the nation of Iror.


But death? Could such a thing be softened?

[Aleida] clenched her eyes shut. I am not skilled enough. I can barely monitor Iror’s borders, much less reverse the spell of a fairy so powerful. A trembling began, starting in her hands and moving up her arms, down her body. If the princess would die in sixteen years, there would be no heir.

Thanks again for the tag, Victoria! I shall leave this 'doom' floating here should anyone care to walk the plank themselves. (I don't know why, but the whole doom thing brought a mental image of a pirate's plank.) Let me know if ye should choose this fate, matey!*
*Ayiyi. What is with me? Doom and pirates and bogs of inspiration?
 And not to worry, I still have a post scheduled for tomorrow morning.

Saturday, June 20, 2015


Tomorrow, as you all know, is Father's Day! Dads, and all father figures in general, hold the power to make such an impression on their children. I am ever grateful for my amazing father, who has made an imprint of love and strength on my heart. I wrote this poem last year for his birthday, and thought it fitting for this holiday.

Father                   (July 4, 2014)

See the fire burning bright
The blaze that warms cold hands
It’s a wall of flames at night
A wolf-repelling brand

See the bedrock ‘neath the soil
Bearing a castle great
It’s a compacted vein of strength
That none can penetrate

See the sails of the mighty ship
That catch the southern breeze
And direct the noble sailors
Across calm or stormy seas

See the rushing woodland stream
Bringing life to what grows near
Its waters reflect the lights above
The stars feel closer here

All these things are in one man
The fire, rock, and sails
Rivers run through my father’s heart
So let me unwind the tale

He’s a warm, protecting fire
That keeps the beasts at bay
He’s a strong support beneath us
Steadfast, come what may

He’s the sail of a family vessel
Guiding us over the waves
He’s a life-giving waterway
Reflecting the One who saves

But how can one possess all these?
How can a mortal man
Be fire, rock, and sail, and flood?
I’ll tell you how he can

The fire was sparked by holy flint
God forged the vein of stone
The Word directs his willing sails
The waters flow from Christ alone

If not for that, he’d be as lost
As any other soul
But thank the Lord for saving grace
That bestowed on him this role:

Father – my Daddy, now and always
He belongs to me
He’s head of a precious household
To our hearts, he holds the key

Lord, thank You for my father
Who protects, upholds, and leads
He’s Your warrior, through and through
With You, he does great deeds

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Beautiful People Parental Edition - Josiah Williams

How many orphan Annies and lone Tom Sawyers have you encountered in fiction? A lot? Me too. There are many orphaned children in literature, and I'm just as guilty as the rest of you writers for adding to their population. Not that parent-less characters are badnot at all! They're often fun to write about, partly because they have no one to stop them from going on their death-defying escapades, partly because they come with ready-made sad backstories. But sometimes it seems that complete family units are a little lacking in books.

Which is why this month's Beautiful People is so brilliant! Cait and Skye have concocted a set of questions revolving around parents. You may think of said parents as those pesky individuals who are ridiculously hard to deal with when your main character is underage ("No, you are most certainly not invading the bad guy's fortress with only a gun and your boyfriend to keep you safe! You have a curfew, young lady! Where in the world did you get that gun in the first place? And excuse me, but that boy never asked for my permission to take you out.") . . . or perhaps you see them as those helpful beings who provide your character with lots of angst and emotional ammunition . . . or maybe they're part of a supportive cast for your main. Or all of the above? Anyway, parents play such a vital part in our own lives. It only makes sense that they affect novels too.

As soon as I found out what this month's theme was, I knew instantly who I was going to pick. I later had a secondary idea come to mind, but felt that option #1 was significantly more interesting. (No, it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that my knowledge of option #2's characters is about the size of a pea. Not at all.)

Josiah Williams

(Regrettably, I have no picture to show you. I don't know enough actors/faces, nor do I have a Pinterest account. Help! If you think of anyone falling under the "16-years-old, brown-ish blond hair, grey eyes, intense gaze" category, tell me!)
Swinging the door open, Josiah peered out again. The hall was empty. He treaded softly toward the kitchen, his socks noiseless on the hardwood floor. The ting of cutlery and the upbeat melody of a song on the radio filtered down the hall. Mom hummed along for a few notes. Josiah paused at the entryway. What's my problem? Why won't I just go ahead and tell her? He leaned against the wall and called to mind an image of Mom's face, framed in loose, dark curls, her sparkly eyes laughing at the world. Her face shrank to give room for the rest of herarms quick to pull him into a hug and fingers ready to muss his hair or flick his arm just to get a silly reaction out of him. Her concern over his disturbing dreams wouldn't merely provoke a phone call and a psychologist appointment. She'd be absolutely sick with worry. Fear would silence her song and wrap her heart in its icy clutches. How could he subject her to such imprisonment?
1. Does he know both his biological parents? Why/why not?
Yes. Josiah's grown up with both parents (whose names are Robert and Jessica Williams, in case you were wondering), along with his three younger siblings.

2. Has he inherited any physical resemblance from his parents?
He has his dad's grey eyes and brown-ish blond hair, although his dad's has darkened with age. Josiah's facial structure is more like his mom's though: well proportioned and not bad to look at.

3. What's his parental figure(s) dress style? Add pictures if you like!
Robert, who works at a bank, dresses very businesslike. Suit, tie, the works. This adds to his already strict appearance.

Jessica, on the other hand, prefers soft, flowing materials. She's creative and fun-loving, and it shows in her wardrobe.

4. Does he share any personality traits with his parental figures? And which does he take after most?
He makes quick decisions and is very passionate about certain things, which are traits his mother gave him, along with imagination and a love of life. And Josiah may not realize it, but he and his father both have a deep-seated desire to protect those they love. They just express it in different ways.

5. Does he get on with his parental figure(s) or do they clash?
As you may have guessed, he gets along with his mom really well. The two have an easygoing, loving relationship. They banter back and forth together, and she seems to understand his soul. But things are strained between Josiah and his father these days. Robert has high expectations of his son, who doesn't feel he measures up. From Josiah's perspective, his dad doesn't listen, doesn't hear when Josiah tries to show him who he really is.
As I planned book two's rewrites, this father-son conflict unspooled even more in my mind. When Josiah comes home after book one, full of stories about his adventures, and Robert doesn't believe him . . . well, let's just say things get simultaneously very cold and very fiery between them. Josiah's relationship with Jessica also takes a considerable weight, because she has trouble believing him too.

6. If he had to describe his parental figure(s) in one word, what would it be?
Dad: rigid.
Mom: uplifting.

7. How has his parental figure(s) helped him most in his life?
Robert has instilled in Josiah strong morals (perhaps not in all areas, but some—I have to give him a bit of credit). Although rare, the words "Well done" spoken by his father have impacted Josiah as well.  Jessica has always given him a safe place to be, all while encouraging his various pursuits.

8. What was his biggest fight with his parental figure(s)?
As I was saying earlier, the beginning of book 2 will see a lot of conflict between Josiah and both of his parents. Jessica honestly doesn't know what to think of her son's claims, and Robert angrily labels him a lunatic, yet still hopes to shake his son out of his 'delusions.'

9. Tracing back the family tree, what nationalities are in his ancestry?
He has British blood somewhere on the Williams side, and a trace of Jewish ancestry on the Soloway's side (his mom's).

10. What's his favorite memory with his parental figure(s)?
Right before he hit his teen years, Josiah and his dad went on a weekend fishing trip in the mountains. Robert seemed lighter then, as if by shedding his suit jacket, he'd put off his unyielding ways. The two of them actually connected that weekend, actually laughed together and had a good time. Unfortunately, the connection faded afterwards.
His favorite memory with his mom was when she helped him with a school project in middle school. Together they built a model castle, complete with working drawbridge and miniature knights. She surprised him the day before the project was due by giving him a homemade dragon to add to the display. That whimsical touch has stuck with Josiah. He still keeps that dragon on his desk.


That's the Williams parents for ya! So what are your thoughts on fictional parents, either as a reader or as a writer? Are they a nuisance? Do you enjoy reading about them? Do they add depth? And hey, can you think of a best and worst set of parents?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

To Live a Creative Life

I sat down to begin chapter one of book two last week. The blank screen looked back at me . . . well, rather blankly. I had a three-page outline sitting right next to the computer, with all the important plot points so neatly delineated. I had envisioned the beginning multiple times in my head. Characters and voices and emotions and undertones and plots sang in my ears.

But my fingers, poised above the keys, were frozen.

What was I missing? This wasn’t writer’s block. I knew what should happen, or at least had a rough idea of it. The screen was blank, but my mind wasn’t. Hesitantly, I typed out a few sentences.

Beginnings are hard. You have no momentum yet, nothing tangible to spring off of. Even if an outline is in place, the question of where and how and when to start a story is a challenging one.

The sentences morphed into a few paragraphs. It felt odd, because I was juggling more characters in an opening scene than I was used to, and they all had specific emotional and mental states to bring across.

Is this too much of an info dump? I wondered. Should I have started with this character by herself, alone with her thoughts? Is lumping an entire family together at the start a bad idea? Does this sound right? Is this character being proactive enough? It seems like everything is just happening to her so far; she’s not taking action.

I deleted half of what I’d written.

A few days later, when I had time to sit down in my writer’s chair again, I picked up where I had cut the scene off. I tweaked things a bit and typed on. It felt a little less odd, but the questions and doubts still poked at my thoughts as the words spilled onto two pages . . . three pages . . . four.

Am I doing this right? Is what I have in my mind translating properly onto the page?

I fumbled around, feeling the scene out like a blind woman introducing herself to a new room, unsure if I was perceiving things correctly.

Book one has spent a long time in the editing stage. It was a baby born prematurely, and so required plenty of care and nourishment to bring it to full health. It’s almost ready now, and I don’t regret a single hour spent poring over those tattered pages. I grew so much as a writer through that process.

That being said, I’ve been in editor’s mode for quite some time. I drafted a novella or two in between edits (and those novellas were revised too!), but overall, my biggest writing focus of the last couple of years has been on editing. So to sit down and try to draft something new feels a bit strange.

But it’s a bit like riding a bike—you never really forget how.

It usually takes some time for me to slip back into the groove when I’ve taken a long break from writing, or when I switch gears. I’ve learned to be lenient with myself when that happens. This time, however, I had to do more than just let myself progress slowly—I had to turn off my inner editor.

With everything I put on the page, I struggled with the impulse to change it, to rework it. To make it better. This is something many writers struggle with, this voice of perfectionism in their heads. That voice is crippling, because it prevents progress, inhibits creativity, and stifles the story. First drafts are messy. Unless you’re the sort who makes a fifty-page outline, your first draft will be rough.

And that’s okay.

Accept that. Embrace it. Don’t be afraid to write messy—the beauty of the first draft is that it’s not final. The point is to get it onto the page, however ugly or sloppy the words are, so that you have something to work with later.

I saw a sign in a greenhouse a few days ago, and if it hadn’t been $23, I would’ve taken it home with me. It read:

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.

That resonated with me, because that was exactly the problem with my most recent writing efforts—I was scared of doing it wrong. Scared to skew the image I had in my head of the perfect story. Scared to see the words fall flat. Scared of not living up to the book before, of creating something that wasn’t better than its predecessor.

I’m telling my inner editor, in no uncertain terms, to shut up for now. “Go to your room. I don’t want to hear a peep out of you until you’ve thought about what you’ve done.” (More accurately, until I’m finished playing in the mud and I need some help fashioning the slop into pies!)

So who’s with me? Have you been listening to that voice that insists on immediate perfection? Are you ready to kick it in the teeth and write freely? Let’s do this together. Let’s lose our fear of being wrong, and live creatively. Polishing can come later.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Five Magic Spindles Reveal

I have a thrilling announcement to share with you! I've been looking forward to this for half a year, and now that it's finally been revealed—well, I'll share the news with you first, then blabber.


Rooglewood Press is delighted to introduce their third fairy tale novella contest—

Five Magic Spindles

a collection of “Sleeping Beauty” stories

Cover created by Julia Popova (aka ForestGirl)
The challenge is to write a retelling of the beloved fairy tale in any genre or setting you like. Make certain your story is recognizably “Sleeping Beauty,” but have fun with it as well. Make it yours!

Rooglewood Press will be selecting five winners to be published in the Five Magic Spindles collection, which will be packaged up with the phenomenal cover you see here. Maybe your name will be one of the five listed?

All the contest rules and information (how to enter, story details, deadline etc.) may be found on the Rooglewood Press website. Just click HERE and you will go right to the page.

Rooglewood Press’s first collection, Five Glass Slippers is available for purchase, and our second collection, Five Enchanted Roses is scheduled to launch on July 27, and is currently available for pre-order. Be certain to get a copy of each and see what previous winners did with their wonderful retellings.
Isn't it exciting?! I had the pleasure of writing entries for the first two contests, and I'm eager to start brainstorming ideas for this one. And seriously, that cover is gorgeous. Can you imagine your name on it?
Whoever winds up winning, I know it will be a delightful collection. Five Glass Slippers, which I have on my bookshelf, was amazing. (If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for? Shoo!) And from the glimpses I've seen of Five Enchanted Roses, it's going to be another delicious installment. Now we have this to look forward to! I have a feeling you'll hear more about it here in the future, as I dream up my own retelling.
So have you heard of the previous two contests? Have you entered? Do you think you'll enter this one? What do you think of that cover? Share your thoughts!