Saturday, February 24, 2018

Remember in the Dark

"Don't forget in the darkness what you learned in the light."

I first read that quote (originally by Joseph Bayly, it appears) in Circles of Seven by Bryan Davis. At least that's where I think I read it. It was so long ago that time and frequent recollection have blurred out the quote's origin. But the truth of it remains clear in my heart.

I've been grateful to live a pretty amazing twenty-two years so far. I can't say I've had a hard life; all I have to do is look around and see countless people with struggles more difficult than my own. But not one of us slips through this world unscathed. We all weather storms of varying magnitudes. I, too, have faced looming shadows and endless valleys.

And it is in the midst of the darkness that we forget.

It's easy to remember in the light. It's easy to recall the truth of who we are and the truth of the God we follow when the reminders are as warm and near as the sun shining on our faces. But when night falls, oh, how quickly we forget. We panic, groping blindly for a corner in which to hide. We cry, fear clawing up our backs. We stumble on, wandering and getting lost in the blackness. We forget so quickly that we are children of light.

But faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Did you get that? Faith is the substance and evidence of what you cannot see. It's the paradox of holding an intangible thing, of perceiving what is not immediately visible. It is real. It's not some wayward fancy. It's not a lure-less hook tossed into the see in the mere hopes that it will catch a fish.

It is real.

When you go to bed at night and flick off the lights, does that mean your room ceases to exist because you can no longer see it? Of course not. Sight has nothing to do with the existence of a thing. It is there regardless of whether you see it or not. But it takes a steady belief to remember that when the lights go out and your eyes fail you.

Memory is a fickle thing. Is it just me, or do you ever look at something to memorize it--be it a review sheet at school or a book cover or a name or a number or a recipe--and forget it two minutes later? "What was that again?" And you go back to check. This kind of repetition is what we need in the moment we're plunged into shadows, when our minds go blank and the fear wells up. Go back and remember. What was it you learned in the light? What was it you saw and felt and knew? Isn't that true today, right now, even if you don't see it in front of you? Go back. Remember. Remember. Remember.

What was true in yesterday's sunrise is true in today's midnight. And it will still be true when the sun rises again.

I'm still standing here // No, I didn't disappear // Now the lights are on // See, I was never gone

(Never Gone by Colton Dixon)

When He feels far away, He is near, as close as He's ever been. When everything crumbles around you, there is a rock beneath your feet. When confusion clouds your mind, you will hear a voice behind you saying, "This is the way; walk in it."

"Your word is a lamp for my steps; it lights the path before me."

(Psalm 119:105)

The thing is, you can see that light if you choose to. It's on a different frequency than the physical light around you, and sometimes it takes a focused effort on your part to switch to that frequency, to see with eyes of faith. But it's there, and it's real. The unseen really is more real than what is seen.

So today, dear soul, wherever you are and however dark it may be, never ever ever EVER forget what you have learned in the light. Hold it close to your heart. That candle will erupt into a torch, and then a burning wildfire, before long.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Autobiography of a Fantasy Character - The Journey Begins

Fantasy is my favorite thing to read and write, but every genre comes with its own suitcase of tropes. In this blog series, we poke some fun at our beloved stories and at ourselves as fantasy lovers.

If you haven't yet read the first instalment, check it out:

Origin Story (in which Hero grows up in Quaint Village, Mentor is mysterious, Incentive dies, Villain's backstory is disclosed, and Hero discovers his singular purpose: to save the world.)

Mentor and I set out the very next day for Distant Land. We packed light, for everyone knows that heroes aren't supposed to look like burdened pack ponies. Taking too much food or supplies would ruin our appearance. Astride our gallant steeds, we bid Quaint Village farewell and rode out into the mountains.

My heart pounded like my stallion's hoof beats. I'd never left the valley before. Never seen the world before. And Distant Land was many, many leagues away, with untold wonders and dangers in between. Suddenly I felt very small.

As we rode, the prophecy ran through my mind.

Darkness watches the chosen one
Many wrongs have been done
When the final note has been sung
And night is day and old is young
Seize the keys that Villain flung

What could it all mean?

Mentor and I rode in silence all day, upslope and downslope and up again, through winding passes and over steep crags. Our horses never tired. We stopped once to eat, but never to relieve ourselves or feed our mounts. Heroes are invincible to normal human needs, you see. That night, we took turns keeping watch and sleeping under the stars. The rocky ground did not disturb my slumber, and I awoke feeling rested.

Our second day of travel continued much as the first. So did the third, the fourth, and the fifth, the mountains growing shorter every day. We could have used all this monotonous riding for discussion--Mentor could have explained more about his past or about my crucial role in saving the world--but where's the fun in that? Better to go into the big wide world with only the bare minimum of knowledge.

We did, however, spar together every night to keep up my training, and I even practiced using my powers. I learned how to start a campfire with a snap of my fingers, move a rockslide out of our path with a blast of light, and probe ahead with my mind to search for living beings.

But my abilities did not warn me of the dark soldiers following us. We had just reached a wide plain that stretched as far my eyes could see, when the enemies attacked from behind. A flurry of crossbow quarrels landed all around us. One struck my shoulder. I cried out and turned my horse to blast our attackers with a frenetic spray of energy. Several faceless soldiers died, but I missed four of them. They ran closer, crossbows taking aim again.

We didn't gallop away to escape their shots. We stood our ground. Heroes aren't supposed to run away from a fight, you know. So when the soldiers fired again, Mentor and I came within inches of death . . .

But Mentor raised his staff and shouted a mysterious word. "GHAOWOUSHAL!" Blinding white light shot from his staff like an exploding star, knocking the quarrels out of midair and searing the enemy soldiers where they stood.

Then we turned and ran.

My shoulder burned with pain. Every hoof beat seemed to drill the quarrel deeper. All I could compare the pain to was fire. Coals on my skin, heat in my veins, fire, pain, fire, pain. (Although I'd never been burned before, so this was all hypothetical.)

Mentor led the way over the grassy plain. We rode hard for several leagues before finally veering into a forest. By this time, I was nearly fainting with the fiery, burning, crackling, searing pain. My vision swam. My thoughts dispersed like fog burnt away by the sun. Mentor pushed his horse through the trees, and my stallion followed.

Just as black crept around the edges of my vision, I glimpsed a massive tree with faces peering out of windows carved in the trunk.

At last I fell unconscious.

* * *

I don't know how long I slept, passing in and out of a feverish haze. Blurry faces hovered above me. Words in a flowing language passed between them. Cool hands touched my burning wound. Somewhere in the back of my muddled mind, I deduced that the quarrel had been poisoned. No ordinary crossbow bolt would make my whole body feel as weak as wet paper.

As I slept, my mind was plagued with more visions of terror and death. I saw cities burning and fields slicked with blood, and a haunting aria of strings seemed to play in the background. I tossed and turned, too weak to rouse myself to wakefulness.

In one vision, I saw Mentor with his staff raised again. He shouted that gibberish word, but this time I understood it. "Cease and desist, by the Light that Blinds Enemies and Burns their Wicked Hearts!" Apparently much could be said in a single word. But understanding its meaning did little to answer my questions or bring peace to my troubled mind. Instead it added to my confusion. Who was Mentor?

When at last the fever broke and the fire in my shoulder eased, I opened my eyes and found myself nestled in a soft bed. Sunlight streamed through a window to illuminate a cozy room carved out of wood. Moss grew on the floor and flowers dressed my bedside table. Was I inside the huge tree I had seen? Whoever chose to live so close to nature must be noble folk indeed.

But what arrested my gaze was a pair of brilliant blue eyes staring down at me. Ruby lips turned downward in a frown. Pointed ears peeked out from waves of golden hair tumbling down her shoulders.

Standing at my side was the most gorgeous girl I had ever seen. And she was an elf.

To be Continued . . .

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Minstrel's Call Cover Reveal

Guys, I'm so excited! Why? Well, two reasons. The first is that I'm beginning to crawl out from the maw of the Great Beast of Homework. And the second reason for the excitement should be faaaaaiiiiirrrly obvious. Y'know, if you read blog post titles at all. Or happen to glance upon title banners. Ahem.

My friend Jenelle Schmidt's newest novel, Minstrel's Call, is coming out in just two weeks!

So that means I get to share the shiny new cover with all of you today! But before you scroll down to see it, let me entice you with what the book is actually about:

War threatens. The game board is set. But the Minstrel is missing...

Advancing his growing power, the Dread Prince breaks free of his prison and brings a faction of dragons under his control, stirring unrest and hatred in the newly united kingdoms of Tellurae Aquaous.

When the dragon wards of Kallayohm are targeted in a ruthless attack, the High King travels there to administer justice. But the trial results in a crippling blow that leaves him reeling.

On the heels of defeat, an unexpected message from the erstwhile Minstrel arrives, pleading with his friends for rescue. Together, the High King and his companions must follow the fragile trail, braving peril and darkness that will test the measure of them all...

Doesn't that sound thrilling? I mean--DRAGONS. YES PLEASE. And also royalty and high stakes and mystery and political intrigue and dragons and war and darkness and dragons . . . It sounds like exactly my kind of book. Just sayin'.

Now, I feel a bit sheepish because I've yet to read the first three books of the Minstrel's Song seriesBut I did have the great pleasure of reading Jenelle's Beauty and the Beast novella in the Five Enchanted Roses collection a few years ago, and her lovely story was one of my favorites. I also thoroughly enjoy her blog, and you may recognize her as one of the co-hosts of the great Silmarillion Awards from the past two years. So I'm convinced that she's basically a genius and her newest release is going to be amazing! With her capable grasp on fantasy and her eagle editing eye (of which I've been on the receiving end), Minstrel's Call promises to be a work of art. Speaking of art, you're all anxious to see the actual cover, right? Well, here it is . . .

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Isn't it beautiful? Ships are another thing I love to read about, especially in fantasy. I may not be the most even-keeled sailor out on the water in real life, but for some reason I'm drawn to those massive, billowing sails and proud bows slicing through the waves.

So like I mentioned, Minstrel's Call is releasing in just two weeks--mark your calendars for February 28th. You can pre-order the e-book on Amazon right HERE for only 99 cents!

And in the meantime, feel free to go stalk Jenelle and follow her blog and congratulate her on her book's release. I promise she's nice.

Jenelle Schmidt grew up in the northern-Midwest. She now resides with her husband and their four adorable children in the wilds of Wisconsin. Jenelle fell in love with reading at a young age during family story-times when her father would read out loud to her and her siblings each night before bed. Her imagination was captured by authors such as Madeleine L’Engle, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander. It wasn’t long before she began making up her own stories and sharing them with her family. To this day she enjoys creating exciting adventure tales filled with poignant themes and compelling characters in the fantasy and sci-fi genres.

Places to find her: Website/Blog // Facebook // Twitter // Amazon // Goodreads

Who else is excited to get their paws on Minstrel's Call? Are you as enthusiastic about dragons and ships as I am?