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.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Book Reviews: Beyond the Gateway + Reaper Reborn by Bryan Davis

Happy Sunday, everyone! Sorry I missed posting yesterday. I chose homework and an evening with friends over publishing this post on time, and while I wish I was a superhero and could get everything done, obviously I'm not. Thanks for bearing with this mere mortal!

Today I'm excited to be sharing not one, but TWO awesome book reviews! I feel like I've been doing more reviews than normal lately, which is . . . odd . . . because my reading time is diddly squat these days. Anyway! Remember a couple months ago when I reviewed Bryan Davis's Reapers? Shortly thereafter, I went ahead and read the rest of the Reapers Trilogy back to back.

THIS IS BIG. I ALMOST NEVER DO THAT. When I start a series, I usually take my time between books because I don't want to get tired of that storyworld. You can have too much of a good thing, right? (I mean, there's also the opposite problem, where sometimes I take too long to continue a series, and end up forgetting all the important stuff.) But I had the next two Reapers books sitting oh-so-temptingly on my desk, calling for me to discover how the story continued. So I did it. I read an entire trilogy within several weeks, and the final two books I read back to back. That should tell you how good they were!

Now, I have a weird, hard-to-define rating system when it comes to books. I rated Reapers 5 stars, and it deserved every single one of those stars. But I'm rating Beyond the Gateway and Reaper Reborn as 5 star reads too--except I loved them even MORE. See, there's a whole range of 5 star books in my mind: there's the "this was a solid book, I really enjoyed myself, and would gladly recommend it" kind of five stars. And then there's the "THIS BOOK WAS INCREDIBLE; EVERYONE, GO READ THIS NOW" kind of five stars. These last two books fall squarely in the latter category!

I can't disclose much about their plots because #spoilers, sweetie, but I'll try to review them anyway. They're perfect for this autumnal, "spooky" time of year, too.

Funny story: this cover jump-scared me. I was studying it up close while on break
at work, when I suddenly saw those creepy eyes in the background FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Book 2: Beyond the Gateway

This picks up exactly where Reapers left off. Whereas book 1 took some time to lay important groundwork before getting into the action, book 2 launches Phoenix and his friends right into the thick of things. Don't get me wrong--book 1 wasn't slow by any means! It just didn't get truly intense until the latter half. Not so this time! Beyond the Gateway swept me up within the first few chapters, and nothing let up until the very end.


Check that.

Nothing let up at all. Of course there are times of rest to give the reader (and the characters) a short breath, but overall, the plot feels like that long climb at the beginning of a roller coaster before it sends you plunging into an adrenaline-pumping adventure. So. Intense.

One thing I loved was Phoenix's journey. His principles are tested time and time again. He stumbles. He questions. But he grows. Oh, does he grow! The spiritual side of things starts coming to light in this book, clearer than in the first, and it's a new realm of thought for Phoenix.

That's another thing I loved! Most of Bryan Davis's male heroes are noble, upright, God-fearing men, but Phoenix is cut from slightly different cloth. He definitely wants to do the right thing, but his moral compass has no true north to which it points. (Yet.)

Speaking of which, it's here that the author starts using the book's speculative elements to their full potential. In a world where souls cannot instantly travel to their eternal destination, but must be reaped and deposited at a Gateway, the story is rife with opportunities to explore faith, eternity, doubt, and free will. Those things were hinted at in the first book, but here the characters dive right into those sometimes-murky waters in search of truth.

And I, of course, was gobbling it all up.

This book also widens the reader's experience of the Reapers' world. Some time is still spent in dystopian, run-down Chicago, but about half of the book takes you to the Gateway itself, and that new setting opens up a plethora of mysteries and answers and still more mysteries.

Back to the characters--remember how I didn't totally love Shanghai before? I've changed my mind on her now. She is amazing. Somehow she became more real, vulnerable, and lovable in this book.

All the characters, really, are fantastic! But the villains, guys--THE VILLAINS. I HATE THEM SO MUCH. I don't think I've hated someone as much as I hate Alex in quite some time.

That being said, Phoenix had to grapple with some verrrry interesting things regarding the fine line between justice and mercy! (If you can't tell, I adore ethical dilemmas in fiction.)

And naturally Beyond the Gateway ended with a cliff-hanger! Good thing I had the next book on hand . . .

Don't you just love that cover? All the amber tones,
the flying dust/debris, the light...

Book 3: Reaper Reborn

So I thought book 2 was intense. HA. Book 3 ratcheted it up a few notches!

Villainous people play even crueller mind games on Phoenix.

Even more people are in great danger, with their lives hanging on his decisions.

Chicago is burning.

People are being gassed, bombed, and tortured.

Creepy robots called illuminaries are everywhere.

With new allies and new threats, Phoenix starts getting paranoid--and understandably so. He doesn't know who to trust at first, but pretty soon he's forced to trust others in order to take down the corrupt Gateway system and save the people he cares about. Here we see Phoenix stronger than ever before, both physically and character-wise. Seeing him finally get mad at a certain somebody who keeps harping on "his principles" and refuse to take any of that junk was so satisfying! And at the same time, Phoenix is struggling more than ever, sacrificing more than ever, and--

Right, I said there'd be no spoilers. Just go read the trilogy already so we can talk about all the juicy parts!

I have to say, while the book held the reader side of me captive, my writer side was also grinning as I pieced together the genius plot Bryan Davis wove together. He answered questions I barely knew I had, and built it all up to a heart-pounding climax!

You know what else he did? He tied this trilogy to the Time Echoes trilogy!* Old-time readers of his will be thrilled to find the connections, and new readers will hopefully be curious enough to go pick up those other books. The ties between the two series are so clever! I honestly got so excited when Scarlet, a Time Echoes character, was mentioned in passing a few times.

*formerly titled Echoes from the Edge

And after all the cliff-hangers and suspense, the ending of Reaper Reborn was positively perfect. There are huge consequences to everyone's actions, but there is also enough happiness and satisfaction that by the time I reached the final page, I was content. (Unlike many YA dystopian novels that seem to favor bleak endings . . .)

I know reviews should be balanced, and I should mention any quibbles I had with these books . . . but there were none. This reading experience was full of the heart, courage, mystery, faith, well-rounded characters, and tight plotting I've come to expect from Bryan Davis.

On that note: when I pick up new books by beloved authors who were my favorites during childhood or teenhood, I'm usually a bit worried that my memories are too kind--that I'll find the new book lacking somehow, and all the magic will crumble.

Well, folks, I'm happy to report that the Reapers Trilogy shows Bryan Davis is at the top of his game! His older books will always hold a special, nostalgic place in my heart, but these newer ones are so skillfully written that they hold a place of equal value. I won't be forgetting my time with Phoenix in futuristic Chicago anytime soon!

Have you read the Reapers Trilogy yet? Do you like dystopian books? Who's the last villain you loathed with your entire being? And, most importantly, WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO PUT THESE BOOKS ON YOUR CHRISTMAS LIST?

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Bibliophile Sweater Tag

GUYS. I haven't done a tag in an eon or three, and while I'm pretty sure I've got a few stockpiled somewhere, the lovely Mary Horton @ Sunshine and Scribblings just created a tag of her own . . . and tagged me with it! It's all about books and sweaters, which are two of my favorite things. So I had to jump in on it now, while it's still sweater weather!*
*Yes, Canada is preparing for another six months of sweater weather. Don't laugh.


  • Give the person who tagged you a never-ending supply of cookies (or just thank them - either works) [Mary, your lifetime supply of gingersnaps is in the mail!]
  • Answer all the questions and use the blog graphic for this tag somewhere in your post
  • Pass along the tag to at least five other people [Read on till the end, my curious questers.]
  • Wear a sweater (okay, this is optional...but why wouldn't you want to??) [I would love to wear a sweater, but today was unseasonably warm--it's a t-shirt for me!]
Before we get going, two teensy tiny announcements:
  1. I'm on Instagram! I'm painfully new at it, but I've been participating in #drachtober over there, which is super fun, and I'd love for you to pop by and say hello. Also my social media icons are now conveniently on the blog's sidebar for your clicking convenience.
  2. I've got an email address! Okay, yes, I've always had an email address (I don't live under that big of a rock), but now I have one I'm sharing publicly. So if you have thoughts about the existence of ladybugs or questions about how to tame the fiery rage of the nearest bookdragon, you can shoot me an email at traceydyckauthor[at]
All right, now let's hop right to it, shall we?

lovely graphic by the lovely Mary Horton

Fuzzy sweater (a book that is the epitome of comfort)

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis // Yes, this counts, because my copy is the whole series in one volume! I reread it for the first time in forever about a year and a half ago, and I can't tell you how many times I've missed Narnia since then. The familiar adventures, the delightful prose, the deep-yet-simple themes, all the nostalgia . . . I seriously need more time so I can reread more often.

Striped sweater (book which you devoured every line of)

Reaper Reborn by Bryan Davis // I HAVE TO PICK JUST ONE? I feel like I'm betraying so many other riveting reads. Why do you do this to me? But okay. Fine. I'll play along and go with what I'm currently reading. It is intense. Bad stuff is happening, people, and I'm not sure how Phoenix and his mates are going to fix everything in the last 50% of the book. I am definitely devouring every line!

Ugly Christmas sweater (book with a weird cover)

The Dark City by Catherine Fisher // I had to search through my Goodreads list for a while to find this. (Apparently I read a lot of attractive books.) That face/mask thingy is just . . . creepy. And I honestly remember next to nothing about this book. Either it was rather bland, or so terrible I blocked it out of my memory.

Cashmere sweater (most expensive book you've bought)

The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan // I don't actually know which is the most expensive book I've bought. #bookdragonfail But this is one of those monstrously priced hardcovers--well, fine, it was $20. So not awful. But not cheap either. BUT PRICE ASIDE, I'm picking this one because I don't talk about the Ranger's Apprentice series enough around here, considering how much I love it! I know some people complain that this 12th book ruined the series ending, but I actually enjoyed seeing Will all grown up and training a new Ranger. Bittersweet.

Hoodie (favorite classic book)

sadly, I don't own it. but I would love
this version!

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie // Since I already picked Chronicles of Narnia for the Fuzzy Sweater, I'll pick one of the next best classics: Peter Pan. I was supremely late to that party, seeing as I read it for the first time last year. But I'm hooked! (Ha. Terrible pun intended.) It's so whimsical and arbitrary in a childlike way, and I adore it.

Cardigan (book that you bought on impulse)

Siren's Song by Mary Weber // I promise you I was shopping for someone else at the bookstore. Yet somehow I walked out with a book for myself? How did that happen? I'm not sure if this was a true impulse buy, because I've been meaning to buy it ever since finishing Storm Siren earlier this year. But obviously I bought this book so fast, I didn't realize this is BOOK 3. AND I DON'T YET OWN BOOK 2. OOPS.

Turtleneck sweater (book from your childhood)

The Black and White Rainbow by John Trent // I'm going waaaay back to my early childhood here. This was one of my absolute favorite picture books, a story about MooseBerry Mouse and his friends trying to restore color to their black and white world. (I specifically remember my parents giving Monty the Mole a funny voice when he talked with his mouth full.) And the illustrations--my word, they are gorgeous.

Homemade knitted sweater (book that is Indie-published)

Prodigy Prince by Natasha Sapienza // My reading diet is a little sparse in this category, unfortunately! But I've got one very intriguing indie book waiting for me right now. It's high fantasy and involves a banished villain, six gifted youths, and a second-in-line prince. Sounds like my cup of tea!

V-neck sweater (book that did not meet your expectations)

The Realms Thereunder by Ross Lawhead // I thought I would love this one--goodness, I wanted to love it--but unfortunately, the great cover and the fact that Ross Lawhead is Stephen R. Lawhead's son didn't translate to a five star book for me. The concept was pretty cool, though, and I will eventually read the sequel. It's just not . . . on the top of my TBR pile right now.

Argyle sweater (book with a unique format)

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke // It contains copious footnotes. Does that count? It's also a faint-inducing one thousand pages or so--that definitely counts, right?! But despite its density, I loved it to pieces. Like I mentioned, I don't do enough rereading, but this is absolutely going to be something I return to one day. I keep eyeing it on my shelf, promising, "One day . . . one day."

Polka dot sweater (a book with well-rounded characters)

The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater // Again, there are so many books I could highlight here! But this was one of the first to come to mind. Despite my quibbles with the Raven Cycle, the deft characterization is my favorite part. Every gesture, every description, is artfully nuanced and painfully real. I'm kind of in love with Steifvater's prose, especially as it relates to characters.

Well, that was super cozy and fun, and now I want to go read allll the things! Thanks again, Mary! You are a tag genius. And now I get to pass that genius along to five other bloggers.

(because all my siblings are bibliophiles and bloggers too!)
Emily @ Stranger Worlds (formerly known as Ink, Inc.)
+ anyone who's wearing a sweater and wants to grab this tag!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Book Review: Five Magic Spindles

Goodreads // Amazon

When Rooglewood Press published a collection of Cinderella retellings a few years ago, Five Glass Slippers, I snatched it up. To my delight, the creative spins on a tale that's been told hundreds of times blew me away.

And when the next collection of Beauty and the Beast retellings, Five Enchanted Roses, came out, I was even more delighted! It was clear that all these writers deserved to win the contests Rooglewood was hosting; these were talented, creative individuals, all with their own distinctive approach.

Well, I'm happy to report that the third collection, Five Magic Spindles, is just as wonderful as its predecessors! In fact, it might be the most unique set of retellings yet.

The Man on the Buckskin Horse // Rachel Kovaciny

When I first heard that one of the stories was a Western, I was . . . well, skeptical. I don't read Western books or watch Western movies all that often. I'm a fantasy nerd at heart!

But within the first chapter, Rachel Kovaciny had me hooked with her dry humor and the no-nonsense midwife Emma Thornberry. I didn't think it was possible to plunk Sleeping Beauty into a log cabin, toss in a farmer and a gunslinger, and come out with anything remotely like the original fairy tale. But she did it!

"The closer I get to fifty, the rarer sensible folks become."

Favorite Things:
  • Emma. She's practical and blunt and hilarious. Why don't we have more books from middle-aged perspectives?
  • Snark!
  • Palmer, the swoon-worthy gunman, has a deep backstory packed into just a few pages.
  • I felt like all the characters had a history--their own stories, their relationships with each other, everything.
  • It was such fun picking out all the Sleeping Beauty elements in this wildly different setting. I won't spoil anything for you, but it was definitely creative!
  • The heartwarming ending.

Not-so-favorite Things:
  • I must have missed a detail, because I thought Palmer was about 20 years older than he actually was, right up until the end. Oops.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and flew right through it. 4.5 stars!

Guardian of Our Beauty // Kathryn McConaughy

I remember when Anne Elisabeth Stengl (the lovely author who runs Rooglewood) shared a collection of first lines from a bunch of writers entering the Five Magic Spindles contests. And I still remember how Kathryn McConaughy's first line about a king drowning in daughters jumped out at me. That same amusing, old fairy tale style is all over her story!

This is possibly the most exotic tale of the collection. Despite being written in a slightly more distant manner, I was fully immersed in the Middle Eastern-inspired setting and its almost mythological flavor.

Palli did not know how she could save anyone. But if all she had to was sleep--well, she could do that! She slept every night. When her other small sisters wondered why Palli went so willingly to bed, Palli only blinked at them and said, "It is good practice."

Favorite Things:
  • Palli, the Sleeping Beauty character, was so sweet and altruistic.
  • All the cool creatures! They were what gave the story a mythical slant. At first, they seemed random, but I should've known better--they all became important later on.
  • The setting. It felt like there was a whole world to explore.
  • Political happenings that were realistic, not ideal, but still not dry at all.
  • Neriya, the prince: oh my goodness, he's a sweetheart too! So brave and endearing.
  • The God Who Answers. I shan't say more. It's best to read it for yourself.

Not-so-favorite Things:
  • At times, like when I thought the inclusion of the creatures was random, it felt like the story meandered. But in the end, it did tie together, so this isn't completely a negative!

This was another pleasant surprise! A solid 4 stars.

The Ghost of Briardale // Grace Mullins

I think I was most excited by this middle story when I first read the blurb. I mean, it takes place in an insane asylum! Forgive me, but I have an odd fascination with both crazy characters--both the creepy psychopathic kind and the lovable/gruff/off the rocker kind.

And while there wasn't a lot of those kinds of craziness going on, the delightfully convoluted plot was more than enough to keep me engaged! There's a ghost, a dwarf who can't turn invisible, a miniature prince turned human-sized, a Slavering Swamp Beast, and buckets of enchantment. There's gloomy dungeons, locked towers, and a courtyard full of statues. Doesn't that sound fun?

Never before in his life had Franz wished this much to throttle anyone, but there were important reasons why he couldn't. First, she was a girl, and he would never hit a girl even if she were as annoying as this translucent green creature.

The second reason was that he was helplessly strapped, so, even if she'd been some sort of brute, the only harmful thing he could do was glare.

Favorite Things
  • Franz. Dear, dear Franz! He's exactly the kind of unlikely hero that I love to cheer for! As a banker's clerk wrongly committed to the asylum, he tries so very hard to be the True Hero everyone is looking for. He's not strong enough to slay a dragon, he's never saved anyone, and the only thing he has going for him is a big heart.
  • While Franz was the kind of hero I love to cheer for, Mara was the kind of antagonist I love to hate.
  • Roselee, the green ghost, was adorable.
  • The fairies were trapped in the forms of a squirrel, a chicken, and a lizard. (Yep. You read that right.)
  • Lots of banter.
  • All the magic! It was so layered and complex, with each chapter revealing more and more of the enchantment. I was kept guessing the whole time.
  • A certain subplot I won't name was really sweet.
  • A satisfying ending.

Not-so-favorite Things
  • Not much to say here, except for the very minor disappointment of not including crazy people in the way I expected.

All in all, this was a complete pleasure to read. Props to Grace Mullins for her twisty plot and lovable characters! 5 stars!

Spindle Cursed // Michelle Pennington

Before I knew that all these stories were actually amazing, the presence of a good ol' high fantasy amongst the less-traditional genres was a relief. Spindle Cursed guaranteed at least one story I'd love. And, though all the other stories proved to be far better than I foresaw, I was right about this one--I did love it! It follows the original tale a bit more closely than all the others, but still stands apart in its fleshed-out storyworld and vibrant characters.

The story primarily follows Prince Edmond, a rather dashing, serious, down-to-earth character who completely stole my heart. But all the others were fantastic too! Aaaand this is the only story to include an honest-to-goodness dragon. Instant brownie points right there.

"Martin, I am a fool," Edmond called.

Reining in his horse, Martin turned his craggy face to look back in surprise. As Edmond drew even with him, Martin inquired, "Would Your Highness wish me to agree with you or disagree?"

Favorite Things:
  • Classic fantasy settings that popped off the page rather than settle into dusty clich├ęs.
  • Lona, the fairy who looks after the sleeping princess, lives alone in the thorn-riddled castle and has gone utterly mad. It's wonderful.
  • The rapport between Edmond and Martin reminded me of Sage and Mott from The False Prince at times.
  • Lady Rhoswen is another one of those love-to-hate-them villains!
  • A neat twist on the sleeping curse.
  • Arabella was noble and good-hearted and all around a likeable princess.
  • I absolutely loved how Michelle Pennington dealt with the romance. There was still the magical kiss, but it required a genuine relationship to develop first. It was done really well!

Not-so-favorite Things:
  • At times, some of the action scenes seemed to take a step outside the character's head and became less immersive.

This was a fantastic addition to the collection! It kept a more traditional fairy tale slant, which I loved. 4.5 stars.

Out of the Tomb // Ashley Stangl

Sci-fi is something I haven't read much of either (although there's more of it in my reading diet than there is Westerns), so I wasn't completely sure what to expect. I needn't have worried, because Out of the Tomb was superb! Ashley Stangl thrust me right into a teeming new world full of flora, fauna, and gadgetry I'd never heard of, yet made me feel right at home.

But it was the raw, relatable characters that won me over completely. Tanza, though an alien girl, was a rough-around-the-edges protagonist who wormed her way right into my heart. And her tale flipped Sleeping Beauty upside down, because this time, it's a prince who gets woken!

She turned her back on the spindle and rifled through the boxes of antique medical tools, falling into a quiet rhythm as she searched for anything of value. Most people found tombs eerie, but Tanza luxuriated in the peace.

A man's voice, deep and smooth, flowed through the silence. "I beg your pardon, but are you robbing me?"

Favorite Things:
  • Tanza is bacon-flipping SMART. She robs high-tech tombs for a living and definitely knows how to look after herself.
  • Prince Auren is absolutely adorable. So confused and old-fashioned and struggling to understand the ways of a world one hundred years ahead of him.
  • The concept of virtue names was genius, and it made me love Auren and Tanza even more. I won't explain it, because that's something else you need to read for yourself!
  • Maybe it was just the genre, but somehow I got a few Lunar Chronicles vibes . . .
  • There's so much culture, history, and worldbuilding jam-packed into this novella, and all without resorting to too much telling.
  • Hovercars!
  • Plot twist!
  • The Moon-Cross Festival scene was my favorite thing ever. So precious!

Not-so-favorite Things:
  • Nothing to report here, unless you count my severe distaste for Keffer, Tanza's low-life boss.

I think, surprisingly, this might have been my favorite story in the collection! The ending nearly made me cry, which is difficult to do in less than a hundred pages. I would gladly follow these characters into more adventures. 5 stars!


A rollicking Western. A world of priests, princes, and flying cats. A castle woven in complex enchantments. A prince brave enough to face a dragon. A sci-fi adventure. Five completely different stories that somehow all paid homage to the original Sleeping Beauty we know and love.

This is a strong collection indeed! Just like the two books before it, there's bound to be something in it for everyone; yet you may be pleasantly surprised by stories you didn't even expect to like. I'm giving Five Magic Spindles a smashing FIVE STARS. This is one book I'll be eager to return to in the future!

If you've read Five Magic Spindles, which was your favorite story? If you haven't, tell me which ones looks most promising! (And then get thee to Amazon and go buy it!)