Saturday, August 26, 2017

Book Review: Reapers by Bryan Davis


The word conjures images of hoods, scythes, and shadows. Death, ghosts, and the veil between here and eternity.

Reapers by Bryan Davis delivered on pretty much all of the above, minus the scythes. We've got an urban setting, wandering souls, dark alleyways, grit, ethical dilemmas, futuristic tech, and the big dystopian staple: untrustworthy power figures.

Find it on Goodreads // Amazon // author's website
Read chapter one for free HERE.
Two teenagers, Phoenix and Singapore, male and female Reapers, collect the souls of the dead and transport them to the Gateway where they will travel to their final destination . . . or so they are told.

A small note: I read this book back in July (a.k.a the mad rush to finish The Brightest Thread in time for Realm Makers), so it took me longer than usual to finish. I don't like when that happens, because I think it can distort my opinion on the book's pacing.

Reapers started out super interesting, don't get me wrong! (And it's actually funny how I've nearly memorized the first paragraph from all the times I've read it in Bryan Davis's writing how-to blog posts.) We get an engaging first look into Phoenix's everyday world--a mostly solitary life of watching over his Chicago district, collecting souls, and smuggling medicine to the sick and dying in his neighborhood.

But after the first bit, it felt like the story slowed down. We spend four or five chapters following Phoenix, Singapore, and two other Reapers all the way to a Gateway depot and back. Which isn't all bad, because although it was thoroughly detailed, it was necessary detail. Without getting the process of reaping clear in my mind, I think I would've floundered later on in the story. But because everything was meticulously laid out right away, big explanations weren't needed later. So really, I have just a small quibble with that pacing issue.

Once I hit the midway point, the pace really picked up! Big plans, sneaking around, action, danger--yes! I positively sped through the second half of the book. The stakes keep rising, trust issues between characters get shakier, and the tension just all-around builds.

And can we just talk about the concept of reaping for a minute? Because it's a really sad job to have. I wouldn't want to be the one called to every deathbed, the one to sweet-talk confused and wandering ghosts into trusting me, the one to carry the burden of all these souls to the Gateway. Some of these Reapers are pretty epic heroes for doing all that!


Phoenix: He was great! I'm used to Bryan Davis's noble, heroic protagonists like Billy from Dragons in Our Midst or Adrian Masters from Dragons of Starlight. And Phoenix is noble and heroic. But he's got a grittier side to him as well. It's hard to describe, because it's not as if he runs around making horrible choices . . . He just feels a shade or two darker than the abovementioned characters. But I loved being in his head.

Singapore: Ah, Sing, should I trust you? I couldn't answer that question till I was partway through the book, and that answer wasn't quite what I was expecting. She's a bit of a wild card, that one. Frustratingly inconsistent. Timid and unsure one moment, brash the next. But not to worry, it all makes sense later on! My uncertainty about her added to the tension for sure.

Shanghai: She's kind of incredible. No-nonsense, but still kind. Hugely capable and confident, and pretty much one the best at her job.

Alex: I hate her. But she's the villain, so that's a good thing! She's conniving, clever, and manipulative. Every time Phoenix thought he had her outwitted, she revealed another layer of her plan. And have I mentioned she's ruthless? Seriously, somebody needs to put her away.

Crandyke: Phoenix carries this guy's soul around in his cloak, much to Crandyke's displeasure. He's cranky, sarcastic, but very knowledgeable--so Phoenix isn't too eager to get rid of him right away. Crandyke's witty complaints made for quite a few smirks throughout the story, and it was great to have that dose of humor.

Everyone else lives in Spoiler Land, pretty much, otherwise I'd discuss them too!



Going into this book, I was interested to see how a Christian author would deal with the element of "Grim Reapers" and the afterlife. Bryan Davis handled it really well! Reapers lands in mainstream territory, so God isn't talked about, but everything was written tastefully. One question this book asks is, "What if souls didn't go to their eternal destination immediately, but had to be delivered there?" That's the role of the Reapers, but as the plot unfolds, we get the sense that this Gateway the souls go through is not what it seems. That perhaps the public is being fed lies, and perhaps the Gatekeeper is not as virtuous as he makes himself out to be. So now I'm even more curious to see where the next two books take that idea!

In the meantime, Reapers offers solid themes on the value of human life, defending the defenseless, trust, honesty, and the kind of teamwork I've come to expect from a cast of Bryan Davis characters. Again, I sense that this novel is setting things up for fantastic character arcs in the rest of the trilogy!

And unlike many dystopians, this narrative had a thread of hope woven throughout.

Random Things

  • Some of the futuristic tech reminded me of Bryan Davis's The Candlestone! Especially the setup of three special pedestals . . . (Anybody else remember that book?)
  • At times I also got a Hunger Games vibe. I remember noting it, but now I can't remember what exactly made me think of that. Dystopian, teens, themes dealing with death, a villain who's always one step ahead . . . ? I don't know, but it was cool.
  • It was fascinating how bold Phoenix was towards Alex. He basically tells her what he's going to do, stating some of his plans to her face. Considering that most people lie to cover up their plans, I thought it was really interesting to watch this approach play out. You'd think it would be a stupid move, but surprisingly it wasn't. I won't spoil anything, though. You need to read it for yourself!

4.5 stars!

I whittled down half a star because the beginning did move a little slow--but again, that could've been partially my fault for being so busy.

(A note on the content: based on a few grisly moments, several sad/callous deaths, and some romantic tension, I would recommend this for 16 and up, probably.)

Overall, however, Reapers is a shadowy tale uncovering the dark underbelly of a once-trusted institution. It's a tale of risk, a tale of taking a stand when all around everyone else is turning a blind eye. It's got humor, it's got heart, and once you get going, it's a hold-your-breath, edge-of-your-seat kind of ride!

If you're looking for that kind of book, go get yourself a copy of Reapers right this minute! And if you've already read this one, I'll race you to book 2, Beyond the Gateway!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

God in Fantasy Fiction - To Be or Not to Be?

A Forward

About five weeks ago, while slogging through edits on The Brightest Thread, I hit a substantial snag. A capital G snag--God. In the novella version of the story, there was no mention of a deity at all, and I was quite all right with that. (More on that later.) But now that I was fleshing out the storyworld, I was finding it increasingly difficult to deal with

a) magic with no explained source,
b) a vaguely referenced act of creation,
and c) the existence of false gods but no True God.

I avoided the issue for as long as I could. When I was forced to face it head on, I hemmed and hawed, I complained to my family, and then I dumped the contents of my brain into a fresh document, which I promptly sent as an S.O.S.: DESPERATE HELP NEEDED to a writing buddy.

Turns out the brain dump and the following conversation were rather insightful, and probably a topic of interest to both writers and readers.

To Be or Not to Be?

Christian writers get hung up on a lot of things. One of the biggest? God in fiction. Should we include Him or omit Him? If we include Him, how do we keep from being preachy or trite? Will "religion" (for lack of a better term) feature heavily in the story, or will it be a light dose? If we omit God, does that run contrary to our faith, or can it be done in a way that still glorifies Him? Should we even be having this dilemma? Shouldn't it be a question of incorporating our fiction into God, not the other way around?

As you can see, many of us are bound up in fear over getting it right. How can we possibly fit all of God into a finite story? But that’s the thing. We can’t.

Even when writing a human character that literally exists only in your brain, you can't fit everything about them onto the page. Whether you're the kind of writer who keeps pages of details on your characters' personalities, appearances, and histories, or the kind of writer who keeps their characters as a cast of imaginary friends in your head, the fact remains. You know more about your character than what appears in the story. (And if you don't, you don't know them well enough yet.)

Now try writing yourself as a character—you can't fit even half of your personality on the page, and the bits you do write, you may struggle to portray accurately. (I suppose authors of memoirs and autobiographies have room for more of themselves, but even reading a book entirely about a single individual is still vastly different from sitting down and getting to know them face to face. There is always—always—more in person.)

So try writing everything about God's nature into a book. The only book that succeeded in that is the Bible, and I'm pretty sure there's even more we'll learn about Him in heaven! He is infinite, after all. Therefore . . .

Point #1: You can't fit all of God into your book. Instead, try to convey one or two aspects about Him, something that can be grasped or explored throughout the story.

And here's another:

Point #2: God can show up in fiction in two ways: as a theme or as a character.

Truth, love, and light show up anytime I write. That's just who I am. God is love, and He is the source of truth and light. So whether He is directly named or not, stories containing truth, love, and light bring Him honor because they are aspects of His nature. This is where God can be woven into a story's theme.

But sometimes a fantasy story calls for an allegorical representation of God. This is where He shows up as a character, and this is possibly the hardest thing to get right. (But remember point #1!) He may be visible to other characters and may interact with them face to face. Or He may be invisible, referenced only as other characters pray, worship, or think about Him.

Or there's a third option where God may show up as a character and as part of the theme.

So which is right for your story?

I can't answer that for you. That's something for you to think about, pray about, and experiment with. But I can offer a few thoughts and questions to get you going!

Pros and cons of God as a character

  • We've all wished God was physically here in front of us (at least I have!). Living vicariously through the characters, we get to imagine what it will be like to talk to Him face to face, touch Him, and hear Him speak. If written well, this can be very powerful for you, the characters, and the readers.
  • If you're writing an allegory, particularly if it's an allegory of Jesus's life on earth, you'll likely need a God-figure walking around.
  • It brings across an immediacy, a tangible presence.
  • It can breathe fresh life into our perception of God, especially when you shake up the uber religious picture of God as a stern, old man with a beard who zaps people from heaven. Let's see Him laughing, enjoying life and people! Let's see Him cry. Let's see the real Jesus of the Bible, but with different skin on.
  • You have to put words into God's mouth. That leaves you with two options: quoting directly from Scripture (which can feel shoehorned into the story), or penning your own words (and running the risk of portraying God inaccurately).
  • Therefore you may not feel comfortable writing Him as a character.
  • It takes a great deal of skill to write a God-figure that feels authentic and true to His nature. If your character falls short, well . . . Let's just say that chances are high He's quite important to your story, so a lot of it may crumble with Him.
  • Limiting an infinite being to a finite body can make Him come across as too small.

Examples that shone
  • Aslan (Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis) - Warm, mighty, mysterious, faithful, sacrificial. It's hard to even begin to sum him up! Perhaps the most succinct description is, "He's not a tame lion, you know." There's something wild, something awe-inspiring, about him. In this case, putting God in the finite body of a lion was not a disadvantage at all--as a reader, I always felt there was something more to him than what I could see. Something otherworldly.
  • Prince Aethelbald (Tales of Goldstone Wood, Anne Elisabeth Stengl) - As a picture of Jesus as the Lover of our souls, he persistently woos Una though she rejects him time and time again. Aethelbald is nothing remarkable to look at. Even his name is the furthest thing from romantic. But his heart beats truer and stronger than any of her other suitors, and by the time I finished reading Heartless, I was stunned by the incredible allegory. Again, presenting God as a flesh-and-blood character could have come across badly, but Anne Elisabeth Stengl gave him the same "something more" element that Aslan has. (Coincidentally, both characters hail from across the sea. Interesting.)

Pros and cons of God as a theme

  • This approach is more subtle.
  • It leaves the spotlight on human beings exemplifying Christ-like attributes, rather than putting them all into one character who represents God. These humans don't have to be perfect (in fact, please don't make them that way!), but they serve as examples for us to reach toward.
  • This can make your story more accessible to readers who don't consider themselves to be Christians, while still reflecting God in a beautiful way.
  • Not every story needs a Savior or Creator. Some are actually better off without it. It's all about the story's scope and purpose.
  • On the other hand, some stories do need a Savior/Creator character. In the case of The Brightest Thread, I had written in some false gods to give the storyworld more depth and texture. But by doing so, I created an imbalance, and then had to invent a God-like figure. If I had left God solely as the immaterial theme of the story, it wouldn't have sat well with me.
  • Without a God to rely on, your heroes' journeys may feel like they fall flat. Depending on what kind of story you're writing, your characters may need a higher power to bring about true transformation.
  •  Again, depending on the scope of your story, the themes you've so carefully woven into your story may be misconstrued as new age or a Disney-fied "follow your heart" sort of message.
Examples that shone
  • Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)- Okay, okay, I know there technically is a God-figure (Il├║vatar), but to my knowledge he isn't really mentioned in LotR. However, we can all agree that numerous characters exemplify godly attributes like courage, love, kindness, wisdom, justice, grace, etc. Watching Frodo suffer as he carried the ring to Mordor, seeing Sam remain faithful to his friend the whole way, witnessing Gandalf face the Balrog . . . these examples impacted me more than some fictional God-figures have.
  • Reapers (Bryan Davis) - Technically this isn't fantasy, it's dystopian. (And God may come up later in the trilogy, I don't know.) But despite the fact that God isn't talked about, Phoenix embarks on a journey that will position him as a hero. A person who rescues the oppressed, who speaks for the voiceless, who defends the defenseless. All qualities that inspire us to do the same.

A note: these lists are in no way exhaustive, and they're not meant to sow doubt in your mind, dear writer! There are so many combinations of writing God as a character and/or as a theme (because you can definitely do both in the same story), and so many degrees therein. This whole post is meant simply to inspire careful consideration and deeper thought.

This isn't a salvation story

That's what I said when wrestling with the God question for The Brightest Thread. And even after deciding to incorporate a fictional God, the fact remained. This novel is not about a character "getting saved" or "finding Jesus." Some novels are, and that's great! But this particular novel is about two people sharing a love strong enough that they would each risk everything for the sake of the other; and about being willing to receive that kind of sacrificial love. That's it.

Characters briefly question God (who goes by another name in the novel), and they briefly reach out for His help. But these protagonists' journeys are not about faith.

I was discussing this with my writing buddy, and brought up the topic of evangelism. In leadership college last year, my leader said something that revolutionized the way I look at evangelizing. To paraphrase:

If a 0 is not knowing Christ, and a 10 is giving your life to Him, we often think that we have to bring someone from 0 to 10 all at once. But maybe all you're supposed to do in that encounter is bring someone from, say, a 3 to a 4. Just one step closer to knowing Jesus. You don't need to force a conversion on the spot. The next Christian to come along may bump that person up to a 5. Or you might be the person to meet someone at 9, and you get the chance to pray with them and see them become a 10.

"I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow." 1 Corinthians 3:6

[via Pinterest]
Maybe it's the same in fiction. We don't have to bring every character to a 10, nor do we have to do that for every reader. Maybe we just plant a seed. Or maybe the story is the water making it grow. What's important is that we are discipling.

Playing matchmaker

My writing buddy subconsciously uses a really cool method of figuring out how to portray God in her stories. She looks at what her story's theme is about--aka, what her main characters need to learn--and she traces that back to an aspect of God.

For example, one of her characters needed to learn about the importance of mercy over justice. So in that particular story, the God-figure's mercy and love are highlighted. She doesn't spend a lot of time on other topics, like God's wisdom or power or holiness. Just what's central to the theme. The result is a beautifully woven tapestry that doesn't bonk the reader over the head with an ill-written sermon.

However . . .

Please, please, PLEASE don't preach.

All of this stuff about figuring out how to portray God and tie in themes and character arcs may be better left as something to study after you've written your story! Especially if you're prone to write from a soapbox.

More and more, I'm learning that the process of writing a transformative story is supposed to transform me first, otherwise it's not authentic.

Writing themes that spring organically from the soil of character conflict and worldbuilding takes practice. A lot of it. But don't let that discourage you from trying, because that's how we all grow.

My friend told me, "Most of the time my characters teach ME things, instead of me trying to teach readers things." Couldn't have said it better myself! So when you're writing God into your stories, let Him surprise you. Let go of what you think you know, and see what happens.

"He who has ears, let him hear."

How and if you choose to convey God in fiction depends largely on your intended audience. But regardless of whether you're writing mainstream or for the Christian community, regardless of whether it's YA or middle grade or adult, resist the urge to explain yourself.

Jesus didn't. In the parables He told to the masses, His Father sometimes appeared as a landowner, a farmer sowing seed, a shepherd, a literal father, a master, a groom, and more. But most of the time, Jesus didn't explain the metaphor to His listeners. He left that up to them. Because when a person puzzles out the hidden meaning of a story themselves, the meaning sticks.

I think Jesus knew that those who were ready to know Him would find Him.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Summer Book Haul // Ruffles & Grace GIVEAWAY

(graphic via Victoria Lynn)

Hey! You didn't expect to see me again so soon, did ya? But I'm back midweek with some exciting news. Blogger and author Victoria Lynn is having a super fun blog party and giveaway this week. She's celebrating the growth of her blog, Ruffles and Grace, and all the friendships she's formed with the blogging community.


Yesterday's part of the giveaway was fashion-oriented, and the part I'm participating in today is about as bookerly it gets! Here's how it works. Myself and several other book/writer bloggers are all posting about summer + books in some form or another today. You get to enjoy said posts, and by doing so, you can enter Victoria's massively epic giveaway! Details can be found on her blog HERE. Trust me, you don't want to miss this!

(graphic via Victoria Lynn)

(photo via Victoria Lynn)

The items she's giving away are:

-A book bundle including
  • Left to Die by Ivy Rose
  • Martin Hospitality by Abigayle Claire
  • Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter
  • Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter
  • London in the Dark by Victoria Lynn herself
  • The Reluctant Godfather by Allison Tebo (link leads to my review)
-A Book Bestie (aka book protector) by Ruffles and Grace, Victoria's Etsy shop
-Some special handpicked notebooks
-A book themed tote by Ruffles and Grace
-A small leather journal

Does that not sound fantabulous? I actually just ordered a Book Bestie last month. You know how awful it is to shove a book in your purse or backpack, and take it out later to find the cover's been bent? Well, a Book Bestie is just the fix, because you slide your book into it, then shove that inside your purse/backpack/bottomless Mary Poppins carpetbag. Presto, no more bent covers! I'm loving mine so far, even if it is too large for my usual purse. It'll be perfect for toting novels--ahem, textbooks--to and from school, and it's even large enough to fit bigger notebooks too.

But on to the summer book haul I promised in the title! What better time to share alllll the books I acquired this summer than now, when summer is (sadly) ending?

Summer Book Haul

I thought my bookshelves were stuffed before, you guys. Ha. The stacks are slowly invading my entire room now! Take a look at the fourteen new additions to my collection:

Where am I supposed to put these beauties? If you have spare bookshelves lying around, ship them to me! Actually
don't. I don't have room for more shelves either.

There's something special about the circumstances around a book--where you found it, why you bought it, who gave it to you. There's always a story leading up to a book. Maybe the book was borrowed from the library before you decided you simply must possess your own copy, and marched straight to the bookstore to buy it. Maybe a dear friend gave the book to you just because. Maybe you "visited" the book in the bookstore several times, as some of my friends like to do, before committing to it. Maybe a perfect stranger recommended it to you. Maybe you sniffed it out in the dusty corner of some forgotten second-hand bookshop. Whatever the case, there's always a story surrounding the story.

Today I'd like to briefly share a few of my own stories.

bought: April 2017
Okay, so April is technically to early to count as summer, but hush--I couldn't leave these two out! While gallivanting around Banff, Alberta with friends on a college trip this spring, I naturally gravitated toward the nearest bookstore. (Am I the only one who must visit the bookstore of every new city I travel to? Yeah? Just me? Okay.) While there in Chapters, I snagged these.

Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer // TBR (to-be read) // bought because of Sleeping Beauty research (and that gorgeous, silky smooth cover).

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine // read this month, half on the plane and half on vacation // bought because it's been on my TBR probably since it came out, and the premise is a.m.a.z.i.n.g.

bought: sometime during the summer of 2017

I was supposed to be shopping for birthday gifts, I swear. I was supposed to be finding things for somebody else. But like any self-respecting book dragon, I snuck a peek at the discounted section of my local bookstore on my way to the birthday cards. And this baby was on a really, really good sale. I couldn't say no.

Emissary by Thomas Locke // read the library's copy two years ago // bought because I loved it . . . and also because I needed that cover on my shelf, honestly.

won: September 2016

Remember that 100-for-100 challenge I participated in last summer? Well, entrants were eligible to win a book from Go Teen Writers, and I ended up winning! I picked Jill Williamson's book on world-building. But a funny thing happened, and I sort of fell through the cracks on their end of things. Not until I came across old emails while cleaning up my inbox did I realize, "Oh, I never did get that prize, did I?" So I contacted them, and they were incredibly sweet about it all. And Storyworld First arrived in the mail this summer! Hoorah!

Storyworld First by Jill Williamson // TBR // won in a giveaway; selected because I'm always ravenous for writing tips.

bought: June 2017

While enjoying a day in the city with my middle sister, we visited Chapters, and I snatched up these two lovelies in anticipation of our upcoming vacation. (I have this thing about being very selective with my holiday reads.)

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall // read this month // bought because some of my dear internet friends, including Deborah O'Carroll and Mary Horton, highly recommended it!

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand // read this month // bought because I first heard of it from Katie Grace, I thought the idea of a young girl's fiction running parallel to her reality sounded cool, and that cover is beautiful.

bought: July 2017
On another city excursion, this time with my brother, we were browsing Chapters (again) when my gaze landed on this book. And a spontaneous, completely not-premeditated book purchase ensued.

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron // on my TBR now that I own it // bought because a) Sharon Cameron is fantastic, b) that cover is equally fantastic, and c) the premise made my eyes widen right then and there.

bought: August 2017

So I went to Realm Makers. And Realm Makers had a bookstore. And this bookstore happened to contain a huge number of books by Enclave authors, indie authors, and just all-around cool-sounding Christian authors that big chains don't carry on their shelves. So what does a reader do? She buys as many as she can fit in her suitcase because this is way better than ordering them on Amazon.

By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson // TBR // bought because Jill is an amazing human and I've been wanting to try her books forever.

A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes // TBR // bought because only like nine million of my friends have been flailing about this dystopian trilogy for years.

Orphan's Song by Gillian Bronte Adams // TBR // bought for the same reasons (plus I need an excuse to buy Songkeeper, which boasts one of my favorite covers ever--are you sensing a pattern?)

The Beast of Talesend and The Tomb of the Sea Witch by Kyle Robert Schulz // TBR // bought because a) Kyle's a fellow Silmarillion host! and b) Deborah O'Carroll's review of The Beast convinced me.

Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland // on my TBR now that I own it // bought because his classes were so informative, and again, I'm on a constant hunt for writing advice.

bought: August 2017
While on vacation with my family, yes, we did find a bookstore. The nose for books must be in the genes. I wanted to buy a book (why I would want to spend more money on books, after flying home with a suitcase full of them, I can't figure out), so I finally settled on this one.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs // TBR // bought because I own the first book and it feels wrong not to finish what I started and buy the rest of the trilogy (even if the first book fell a little bit short of my expectations).

Do I have a problem?

Yes. Yes, I do have a problem. It's the same problem afflicting most all book dragons alive, and I don't regret one bit of it! But I definitely have my reading cut out for me for the next few months. I may not even set foot in the library for a while--horror of horrors.

What's the best book YOU bought this summer? Have you checked out Victoria's giveaway yet? If not, shoo! Off with you!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Realm Makers 2017 Recap

Greetings, fellow adventurers! As you've probably realized by now, I have returned! And boy, do I have stories to share about Realm Makers. I'll try not to make a novel out of this post, but no promises.

Day 1

My parents and I woke up at an unholy hour (3 am, to be precise) to get to the airport on time. I've never flown before, aside from a few times in tiny crop duster planes, so this was all new to me. Despite being a complete newbie, flying turned out to be pretty straightforward. Follow the signs, ask for directions if you need to, and be on time. Easy enough. And thanks to Gravol and air plugs (these little rubber ear plugs that help with the changing air pressure), I made it with zero nausea.

From home I flew to Vancouver; then to Santa Ana, California; and finally to Reno, Nevada. I had a window seat during two of those flights, so I got to watch the flat prairies turn into the Rockies, and the Rockies turn into the Sierra Nevada range. I've never seen brown mountains before! (And I can now write airport scenes more accurately, so yay for that!)

Riding the shuttle from the airport to the hotel, I overheard conversations behind me about vampires and fictional races and how to find critique groups, and I couldn't help but grin. It was so unlike anything you'd hear on a regular bus, I just knew I was in the company of writers. I was finally at Realm Makers.

When I arrived at the hotel (which was huge and had a casino on the main floor--it reeked of cigarette smoke there), I met Lisa Canfield, long-time friend, blogger, and one of my roommates! We had supper with an assortment of Realmies, then retreated to our room for an early night.

Day 2

Me and Lisa nipped across the parking lot for breakfast first thing in the morning.

Pre-conference day! I met a bunch more people, including Victoria Grace Howell! It was so surreal to be meeting online friends and fellow bloggers, and glimpsing familiar authors in the crowd.

Me and Tori! Apologies for the fuzziness in the photos. Hotel lighting isn't the greatest.

The first half of the day was David Farland's pre-conference workshop on creating a winning writing career. I learned SO. MUCH. Midlist authors vs. super lead authors, pen names, global markets, being a fast and consistent writer, growing my skills in concept/plot/prose, the neurobiology of readers, reaching a vast audience, writing beats . . . I scribbled a dozen pages of notes on this class alone!

David Farland, pre-conference workshop

Sometime that afternoon, I met my friend Mary Horton, who's just as sweet in person as she is online!

With Mary Horton

Later in the day, the conference officially began, kicking off with an agent and editor panel where they answered questions we wrote in. One thing I was reminded of is to write the story I am passionate about, rather than worrying about trends, and that's what will set me apart.

Ted Dekker's opening keynote was next. If you'll remember, he's one of my favorite authors, so I was massively excited to hear him in person! I found he was as dynamic and powerful in his speaking as he is in writing. He's been on an incredible journey and come to learn so much about who God is, what it means to be one with Him because of Jesus, and the power of our own perception. Much of what he talked about was similar to things he teaches in The Creative Way writing course, but it stirred my hunger for knowing God, clarified my vision, and provided a breath of fresh air and peace.

Ted Dekker

After that, Carla Hoch held a fight workshop. It was super informative, because she was teaching real fighting skills in order to help us write better fight scenes. It was also super hilarious, especially since she was demonstrating everything on the emcee, Ben Wolf! Some of the practical things I took away were: everything is a weapon, the deadliest person is the most willing person, and the first thing you should try to do when approached by someone aggressive is RUN.

Carla teaching us how to break Ben's wrist with nunchucks.

Day 3

I had a lovely breakfast in the lobby with Mary H. and her mom, and then hurried off to my first class of the day: Robert Liparulo's continuing session called "Embrace the Strange." Sadly, I missed about half of his teaching throughout the conference because, being a newbie, I scheduled all my appointments during class times. But what I did hear was so encouraging and inspiring. He talked about how to write strange stuff without chasing people away (hint: hide the weird among the ordinary, the familiar, and the universal, especially universal human emotion). But the biggest thing I took away from his classes was this: trust yourself as a writer. And don't hold back those good ideas you're saving for fear of emptying your bag of tricks. Write those twists, those amazing characters and plots and ideas, now. And trust God to give you more for the next novel.

In the middle of that first session, I slipped out for a mentor appointment with David Farland. I asked him for advice on getting from where I am now to where I'd like to be (writing as a career), and got some great tips for how to prepare myself and grow my skills.

My next class was one on networking by Mary Weber! I was expecting social media strategies and marketing platforms, but what she taught was so much better: publishing is relational. Networking is just making friends. Of course she went way more in depth than that, but it was a wonderful reminder and eye-opener.

At lunch, I sat with Mary, Jonathan Trout, and a whole group of teens, a few I know from Goodreads and whatnot. They're such a fun group, and I ended up hanging out with them a lot more during the conference.

Right after that, I had a class on plotting a bestselling series by David Farland (apparently I signed up for a lot of his classes, LOL). I know I'll definitely be referring to my notes whenever I get back to working on The Prophet's Quest and its sequels!

Next I had another of Robert Liparulo's sessions. I missed part of it again for my first ever appointment with an agent. I was a bit nervous, but no more than I've been for job interviews, and the pitch went decently well. I was told my writing was good, so that's a plus!

That evening was the awards banquet, where almost everyone showed up in costume, and I dressed as Emma Swan from Once Upon a Time! Aaaaand here comes the onslaught of pictures.

With Mary (as Bilbo), and roommates Brianna da Silva (as medieval peasant) and Lisa (as Arwen) // photo courtesy of Mary's camera

Will all my roomies: Liv K. Fisher (as a fairy), Lisa, and Brianna
With Cassia Schaar (as Annabeth) and Olivia Hofer (as herself)
With Tori (as a fem Graham)
With Jonathan Trout (as Robin Hood, minus a bow)
With Hann R. (as herself)
With Keturah Lamb (as herself)

I didn't catch their names, but when I asked Flynn Rider and Rapunzel for a picture,
Flynn said, "As long as you get my nose right," to which I replied, "As long
as you give me the smolder." This is the result.
Snow White and the cutest dwarf I have ever seen!

Author Jill Williamson (as Gamora) and her husband (as Star Lord)
With Jill
I met so many others too--I just don't have room for all the pictures! There were characters from Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, Disney, and more. I saw Dr. Strange and the Ancient One (actually Scott and Becky Minor, who run the conference!), Katniss Everdeen, Belle, Gandalf, Wolverine, people in steampunk costumes, and so many others I either recognized or had never seen in my life. I've never been a part of any cosplay event before, but it was really fun to strike up conversations with perfect strangers based solely on the fandoms they represented!

As the banquet wound down, I got a chance to meet and talk to author James L. Rubart. He's a super nice guy. We had a great conversation and I walked away encouraged!

Day 4

First thing in the morning I had a half-hour session with editor/author Lindsay A. Franklin for my ten-page critique. It was amazing. She was so encouraging and supportive, offered awesome advice, and was just really fun to talk to! (And her first novel is coming out in 2018, you guys! Be on the lookout!) Based on her comments and ideas, I'll be reworking at least part of The Brightest Thread. Improvement is an exciting thing!

Afterwards, I had another pitching appointment. This one went very differently than planned, because as it turned out, TBT isn't the right fit for this agent. But we had a good discussion in which he asked questions to stir my creativity and help point me in the right direction, so it was still a helpful learning experience!

I then caught the tail end of Robert Liparulo's final session. Following that was a class on character motivations by Lisa Mangum, which offered practical tips for defining characters' values, goals, and ambitions, and thrusting them into conflict and growth.

That afternoon, I sat in on a panel about reaching readers. The advice was aimed more for already-published authors (always keep copies of your books in your trunk; never be without a Sharpie for signing them; etc.), but it was still informative.

My final class that day was another one by David Farland, this one about building a magic system! One of the best things I took away was the idea of using magic to explore morality--what is the right use of all that power?

Then we had some free time! I hung out with friends in the vendor hall/bookstore and agonized over which books to buy. With limited room in my suitcase, deciding was hard. And then for supper, my teen friends kidnapped me right out of the hotel for deep dish pizza and deep conversation to match. I had so much fun with them! (They were fascinated by my Canadian currency. 'Twas hilarious.)

picture provided by Jonathan Trout

Then it was back to the hotel for Ted's closing keynote and Q&A (so good!) . . . and then, the reason I had packed probably ten pounds of books along: the book signing!

I got Storm Siren signed by Mary Weber! She's like the nicest human bean ever.
Ted Dekker! I got Mortals signed by him. (Most of the Dekker books in my
house belong to my dad. I actually own very few of them myself.)
I didn't have any of Robert Liparulo's books with me, nor did I have room in my luggage to buy one, so he signed my notebook for me. XD
I also got a couple of books signed by Jill Williamson (she's so friendly) and Kyle Robert Schulz (fellow Silmarillion Awards host), though I didn't get pictures.

And then, to close it all off: the NERF WAR. I didn't stay for nearly all of it, because I had a ridiculously early flight the next morning, but I stuck around long enough to play several rounds of zombies vs. survivors. Despite being tired, it was hilariously fun! (Seriously, when do you get to see a whole roomful of mostly adults running around shooting foam darts at each other? And having serious strategy huddles before each round of the game?)
Liv and I, happy assassins

Day 5

I got four hours of sleep and woke up at 4 am to catch my flight to Salt Lake City. I was exhausted and threw up once, but my next two flights went smoothly. By suppertime I was home again.

* * *

And that was Realm Makers 2017! Sorry for the beastly length of this post. There was just so much I wanted to share with you. Realm Makers was encouraging, inspiring, jam-packed, worth the money, and so. much. fun. I learned a lot and met so many awesome people. When others ask me what the highlight of my trip was, I've been telling them it's the people. It's being around so many other writers. The energy of a huge room full of individuals who love story, speculative fiction, and Jesus. People who get me. People amongst whom small talk consists of more than just "Where are you from?" and "What do you do?" but "What do you write?" It was an amazing conference, and I hope I get to go again next year!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Sunshine Blogger Award

Hello! I'm currently off in some secret location on a vacation with my family, so this is me speaking to you from the past. I needed a quick post to schedule for today, since I hate to leave this place lonesome and deserted, and a tag seemed like just the thing.

I've done the Sunshine Blogger Award before (a Q&A is about as easy as it gets, thank goodness). This one comes from the lovely lass who goes by the name Blue, over at To Be a Sennachie. Thanks, Blue!

1. How are you today?

As of the day I'm writing this, very well, thank you! My brain is racing a hundred different directions because I'm on the verge of flying away to Realm Makers. (But as of today, I'm probably sitting in the sunshine with a book in hand and feeling much more relaxed.)

2. What’s one thing you love about your job/school?

I enjoy the mindless organizational aspect of restocking the store (I work in clothing retail), but I love the endless stories of customer interactions more. Character fodder, you know! Takes all kinds to make the world go round, and I've seen some rather interesting kinds during my two years at this job.

3. Know any other languages?

Besides English . . . no. Does a handful of words I've made up for fantasy novels count?

4. What’s one thing you adore- but think you will be able to give up for the rest of your life?

Oi, this is a hard one! If I adore something, naturally I'll want to keep it around for the rest of my life, or at least for a good long while! But . . . I suppose if forced, I could give up movies. Though I'd hate not getting the chance to see the rest of the Marvel movies. And the eventual new Narnia movie. And all the rewatches of LOTR and the Hobbit that I want to partake of. And every single Disney reboot they come up with. And all the funny, tragic, moving, suspenseful films I want to see. GAH, I CHANGE MY MIND. I couldn't give up movies! How about chocolate? I'd miss it terribly, but I'd rather feed my mind and heart than my stomach.

5. What’s one thing you despise- but think you will be able to endure for the rest of your life?

Bureaucracy! Red tape! Political correctness! I hates, it precious! (I'm really a harsh little rebel somewhere deep inside, but I tend to keep that shady corner of myself hidden from the public eye.) But being as this is the world we live in, and this sort of nonsensical lack of common sense and justice is entrenched so deeply, I suppose I may have to endure my fair share of it. Though I would like to affect some changes during my lifetime. How, you ask? By burning it all down and starting a benevolent dictatorship on my own little island--ah, I kid. Mostly.

6. The doorbell rings. You answer it, and find the future you at the doorstep.  What do you do?

Invite her in for chai lattes and gingersnaps, knowing she simply can't resist those, and ply her with questions. Most importantly, how did she get where she is today, is she happy there, and what's one piece of advice she'd give her younger self (aka me).

7. Have you ever gotten lost, but enjoyed the experience?

I've probably gotten turned about in the woods someplace, but there's always been trails around. Any other times I've gotten lost, it's been driving around in the city, and I do not enjoy that.

8. Do you have any culinary quirks?

I am a messier baker than my mother. *wink* I can't help but leave flour dust in my wake! And I don't particularly enjoy handling raw meat, though I'll do it.

9. Imagine that a theme song from a film or show played every time you entered a room. Which theme song would you want it to be?

Ohhhh, THIS is what you were referring to, Blue, when you mentioned this question was familiar! (On my brother's blog, I believe?) Anyway, I'd probably pick something light and airy and vaguely epic, with Celtic undertones. Like THIS, perhaps? But if I'm being more accurate, it would probably be something quirky and strange, like Radagast's theme music.

10. Where would you rather live? A houseboat, a mountain cabin, a farmhouse, or an apartment overlooking the whole city?

The mountain cabin, if you please! Although the farmhouse would be my second choice. I'm not fond enough of the rocking sensation of boats to live on one, and a city--though fun at times--makes my tree-loving soul feel cramped.

11. Where’s Waldo?

Good question. If you find him, you'll make a killing, because I'm sure there are a good many people who are wondering the same thing.


Aaaand I would come up with a set of new questions and tag more people, but I've run out of time! Feel free to pick some of these questions to answer in the comments, though! I'll see you in a short while, and I'll probably come dump an overly long post full of Realm Makers stories. Until then, fare thee well!