Saturday, August 18, 2018

Book Review: Fairest Son by H.S.J. Williams

Hi ho, my friends! I've got a book review for you today! Recently, I had the honor of reading Fairest Son, a novella by H.S.J. Williams, and loved it so much that I have to shout it to the world.

Fairest Son is a gender-bent retelling of Snow White. I don't know about you, but I was instantly intrigued by that twist alone. But it gets even better! This little tale draws from Irish mythology, including Seelie and Unseelie courts, the sidh, and a lot more that would be too spoilery to mention.

Here's another thing you should know: I read Fairest Son in one sitting. The plan was to read three or four chapters and then move on to writing a blog post. But I kept scrolling . . . and scrolling . . . until I lost track of time and read the story right to the end!*

*I stopped once for a cookie break. Those are important.

The Fair and Foul courts of the fey folk have long yearned for one to bring them together in peace, but hopes are dashed when the fairest prince and the prophecy concerning him are laid to ruin. Burdened with shame and sorrow, the prince flees to the cold mountains far above the forests and lochs with nothing but animals and goblins for company.

When a human huntress stumbles upon him in her search for a legendary predator, their fates are intertwined. But she hides deadly secrets, and if he dares to trust her, he may risk the doom of both courts to an ancient evil...

Wonderful Things

1. Unexpected twists

No spoilers here, but this story deftly twists and weaves the Snow White we all know into a fresh new tale--a tale that stands strongly on its own, yet sends little winks and nods to its source materials at all the right moments. Every "aha" was a delight!

2. Wild fey

Disney's Tinkerbell is nice and all, but the kind of fairies that really enchant me are those that tend toward the wilder side. A little darker, a little more capricious and untamed, a little truer to the fairy tales of old. The Seelie and Unseelie courts here were populated by just that sort of fairy (a.k.a. sidh), which made me happy.

3. Perfect pacing

Novellas are tricky when it comes to pacing. Longer than short stories, they must have a strong enough plot to merit about 20,000-30,000 words; but shorter than novels, they don't have the space to delve into the characters or the world quite as deeply as a 400-page tome. Yet Williams crafted a story that sucked me in quickly, settled me into the world comfortably, and made me fall in love with the characters in very short order. I didn't feel that anything was lacking or terribly rushed. But now the problem is I want more!

4. Lovable characters

Like I said, I fell in love . . . most strongly with Prince Idris! He is a gentle soul, yet strong. Deeply hurt and disfigured, yet trusting. His mirthful disposition was a ray of sunlight in a snowy landscape. Calling him a "precious bean" or "soft cinnamon roll," as is the practice of many fangirls when talking about this type of character, just isn't good enough for dear Idris!

Our main character, the reserved and secretive huntress Keeva, formed the perfect complement to him. Capable and cunning, she held her own without being an emotionless "strong heroine." And guys, I ship these two so hard!

The band of seven goblins, cleverly named by personality, were a lot of fun too! They paralleled Disney's dwarves somewhat and were surprisingly easy to keep track of--which is no small feat when there are seven of them running around.

5. Pretty prose

I'm a sucker for lovely narrative. It's no substitute for a good story, of course, but it's the delicious icing on the cake. And Williams achieved a style of prose that harkens back to the time of fairy tales, with an omniscient style and a whimsical voice that reminded me at times of Anne Elisabeth Stengl.

6. Stirring themes

THIS IS THE REASON I'M GIVING IT FIVE STARS. I can't tell you how or why or what happened without giving away the ending, but Fairest Son had me grinning, widening my eyes, clutching my heart, and then at last smiling softly with satisfaction, all because of its beautiful themes. Though unexpected, they arose naturally from the story and put a twist on love and redemption that I didn't see coming.

Not-So-Wonderful Things

1. A few typos

Just a small handful, really, and perhaps a phrase or two that could have been smoothed out. Very, very minor details. I loved the story too much to care.

2. It wasn't long enough!

Okay . . . so that's not really a negative, because it is a novella and Williams did do a fantastic job of fleshing everything out within her space limits. But I enjoyed my time in these pages and want more!

In Conclusion

Fairest Son is a beautiful, moving tale of a disfigured fairy prince and the huntress who finds him in the woods. It is a story of recognizing the foul among the fair and uncovering the fair among the foul. It balanced elements of Snow White within a rich world drawn from Irish myth, written with both humor and heart. It's definitely worth a buy, and I hope to get it in paperback as soon as I can! (Partly because there are two gorgeous illustrations inside that need to be petted admired on the page!)

I hope Williams goes on to write full-length novels too, because I would gladly spend more time under her enchanting spell. Five stars from me!

From the beginning, H. S. J. Williams has loved stories and all the forms they take. Whether with word, art, or costume, she has always been fascinated with the magic of imagination. She lives in a real fantastical kingdom, the beautiful Pacific Northwest, with her very own array of animal friends and royally loving family. Williams taught Fantasy Illustration at MSOA. She may also be a part-time elf.

Website // Amazon // Goodreads // Instagram // Hannah's art page

[I received a free ebook copy of Fairest Son in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are entirely my own.]

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Subplots and Storylines - July 2018 // ANNOUNCEMENT

The month of July, in its swirl of humidity and heat, seemed to orbit around the gravitational pull of the Realm Makers conference I attended. The first three weeks were full of preparation for the trip, then the conference actually took place, and then I spent the final week recovering!

Life Subplots


Filmed and posted a vlog, because why not put off one's blogoversary celebration until the busiest month of the year, right? (Here's part one and part two.)

Put together my Cinder cosplay, which involved attacking a t-shirt with scissors and genuine mechanic grease and testing out silver face paint on my "cyborg" hand.

Also revamped my one sheet for The Brightest Thread in order to have material on hand for pitch appointments at the conference.

Most importantly, I stuffed myself with as many fresh strawberries and sugar snap peas as possible, because their growing season doesn't last long.

The (In)famous Realm Makers

You might be sick and tired of me and all the attendees raving by now, so I'll spare you a regurgitation of the details and will instead point you back to the link in the first paragraph of this post, in case you missed my recap!


Because yes, an introvert needs to crash after two days of travel and three days of non-stop people. And a lover of words and worlds must somehow step back into real life after being to Narnia and back. Recovery involved sleeping . . . and more sleeping . . . and typing up all my Realm Makers notes* . . . and also watching The Fellowship of the Ring.

*Thirty typed pages of notes, people. THIRTY.

I also just enjoyed summer and played water balloon volleyball and took my siblings to the city for a ride on a surrey bike. It's like a tandem bike, except built for four people and shaped like a golf cart with pedals. Lots of fun! Pedaling uphill is not for the faint of heart. Or faint of legs.

P.S. I had a blast participating in Nadine Brandes's Instagram challenge for the month of July! If you're on Insta, I'd love to connect with you there!

Screen Storylines

Avatar: The Last Airbender season 1
I actually watched five episodes of this with my sisters, which is more than we've seen in a while. We just got to some good backstory for Zuko!

Once Upon a Time season 6
Two episodes of this with my sisters. One of the episodes was deep and interesting and involved Prince Charming. It felt like the Once that I've always loved. But the other episode . . . blegh. A certain person acted very out of character, plus he was played by a different actor. This whole season has been a bit of a mixed bag.

The Fellowship of the Ring
Can you believe this was only my second time watching it? I still get emotional at . . . well, pretty much every part. The Shire, the little hobbits at the start of their adventure, the forming and the breaking of the fellowship, Gandalf and the Balrog, Boromir, Sam swimming after Frodo. MY HEART IS SO FULL. This was my sisters' introduction to Middle Earth on the big screen, so that was even more fun!

Page Subplots

My reading accomplishments were pretty pitiful this month, especially after devouring nine books in June. I read just one book in July. Sniffle. I did start a second, but it's still not finished.

Last of the Nephilim // Bryan Davis

War is coming. In this, the seventh instalment in a story world that started with Raising Dragons, all the heroes gather in Second Eden to face the coming storm. Dragons, giants, prophets, oracles, warriors, healers, the old, the young--all are desperately needed.

What I loved:
  • Elam got lots of time on the page
  • Sapphira had to face the darkness yet again
  • All the action scenes with the plane were great! (Merlin II, is it?)
  • Dikaois--he ranks right up there with horses like Bree from C.S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy
  • Second Eden is such a cool setting!
  • Angel's choice near the climax--I get shivers every time I read that scene
What I didn't like:
  • A very minor complaint. The identity reveal of someone's grandfather didn't seem quite as important as the characters were making it out to be, but maybe I missed a detail, what with my reading time being spread so thin.

Overall, Last of the Nephilim is an epic book that sets the stage for my one of my favorite series conclusions ever: The Bones of Makaidos. 5 stars for this reread!

(Speaking of Bryan Davis, he has a fantastic discount on his books going on until August 5th!)

Writing Storylines

As I mentioned, I did rework my one sheet, so that kind of counts toward writing. Right?

I also edited chapters 3-5 of The Brightest Thread. It's still slow going, but that's all right with me. Some of the editing is dealing with deep-seated story elements, particularly around the beginning, and that always takes longer. This month, I hope to ease into the early/middle chunk of the story, which should be a bit easier to work on.

Almost forgot--I wrote and edited a super short flash fiction called Blackened Shell. I submitted it to Splickety for consideration in a live critique session they did at Realm Makers. While I wasn't selected as one of the ten stories they critiqued, I did learn plenty of tips and tricks for improving my flash fic next time!


(You probably scrolled right to the bottom to see what this is all about, didn't you? Come on, be honest now!)

Life is always busy. I'm not a fan of that term, busy, although I use it all the time. Truthfully, every day is composed of the exact same twenty-four hours, and we choose how they are filled. But they are always filled with something. Therefore, life is always busy full.

I choose to fill several hours each week with blogging because I love it. I love writing new posts to share with you here, whether they're life updates like this or book reviews or jolts of inspiration to wake your heart. I love reading all of your comments and having conversations with you.

But there are also other things I love, and on top of that, there are some "have-to's" filling my hours--just like your life, I imagine. Balance is key, and different seasons demand we shift our balance from time to time. So I'm shifting some things around right now.

Not to worry! I am not quitting the blog! I REPEAT: ADVENTURE AWAITS IS STILL ALIVE. Neither am I leaving on hiatus. Rather, I am adjusting my posting schedule for a while. With college beginning in less than four weeks, I have a few boring affairs to get in order. I'd like to edit more of TBT before classes start too, and it'd be nice to read a few novels before the textbooks come down in a landslide. So here's how it's going to be.

Old posting schedule: Every Saturday, including a
Subplots and Storylines recap every month.

New posting schedule: Every other Saturday, including the
same Subplots and Storylines recap every month.

This means that instead of four or five posts a month, you'll be getting two or three. It may feel weird to keep such frequent S&S posts with the new schedule, so I may slow those down too. We'll see! This new schedule will go into effect starting now (so don't be alarmed when there's no new post next Saturday) and it will run until I graduate college at the end of April 2019.

See, I've been ruminating on ways to make Adventure Awaits an even better place to visit, and I know that pushing out sub-par content simply for the sake of a schedule would have the opposite effect. I'd rather give you better posts, even if they come less frequently.

How does that sound, questers? Thoughts? How was your July? And your summer in general so far? Let's chat!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Realm Makers 2018 Recap

Realm Makers . . .

I've been putting off writing this recap because I don't know where to start! Recently, I told a friend that I feel like a Pevensie returned from Narnia. There's a wistfulness and a yearning about leaving a place that feels so much like home.

I met so many friends at RM, even more than last time! New friends, old friends, and quite a few of those friends I've known online for years but had never met until now. I met authors who are incredibly genuine, humble, and kind. I left with my mind stuffed full of writing/publishing knowledge and the glimmerings of new ideas. I left with my heart full and my soul fed. There's no other way to say it.

To give you an idea of just what goes on at Realm Makers, I'll take you through a quick recap of each day of the conference. Then, because I have a couple of special stories, I'll share those at the end. Warning: This is going to get long, so I won't blame you if you skim!

Day 1: Wednesday

This was my travel day and my second-ever flying-on-my-own trip! I felt a lot more at ease this time. From home, I flew to Toronto and then down to St. Louis, Missouri. I met my roomies Deborah O'Carroll (finally, yay!), Claire Banschbach, and E. Kaiser Writes for the first time, and we grabbed another friend to go for a late supper.

Day 2: Thursday

Tosca Lee's pre-conference workshop was amazing. She really made us attendees get up and get to know each other throughout the class--a smart idea, because otherwise that room of mostly introverts would never have started talking--and then she laid a solid foundation for the life of a writer. She also delved deeply into characters. Like the ouch, now I'm digging into my own dark corners kind of deep. I loved every bit of it and scribbled a dozen pages of notes.

Left to right: Audrey, Savannah, Mary, me

Since I've enjoyed Tosca's books for years (and also followed her Instagram for a while), it was also neat to meet her in person and get a book signed. She's sweet and funny and down-to-earth.

With Tosca Lee

Halfway through the pre-con session, I went out to nab a taco lunch with friends, and we found Wayne Thomas Batson sitting in the corner of the restaurant. Of course we ambushed him introduced ourselves.

After Tosca's session, I met more people who had recently arrived, including the darling Christine Smith! By this time, my group had fairly doubled in size, and we ate more tacos for supper.

The evening kicked off the actual start of the conference with Mary Weber's opening keynote (she gets right to the heart, guys), an editor and agent Q&A, and a live flash fiction critique sponsored by Splickety (both informative and helpful). I was elated to hear two of my friends' flash fics read out loud--Deborah O'Carroll and Savannah Grace!
Left to right: me, Mary, Savannah, Christine

Day 3: Friday

Regarding classes, I attended . . .

  • Allen Arnold's continuing sessions on When Chaos and Creativity Collide. I've got a story about that class for later, but for now I'll say it stirred my heart and breathed life into my soul.
  • How to Pitch Your Novel Without Sounding Like a Robot by Nadine Brandes, which was every bit as helpful as it sounds. I finally feel like I can tell you what my WIP is about in one sentence without sounding like a complete dork.
  • Everything You Need to Know About YA by Mary Weber and Nadine Brandes. Super information shared by two of my favorite authors!

With Nadine Brandes

In between, I had a short mentoring session with one of the faculty and walked away with some actionable steps to take in honing the focus of this blog. I also pitched to an agent, which went well--a great confidence boost!

But in true RM style, there is much more going on than just learning! I went out for pizza with a big group of friends, including all of the SilmAwards peeps who were in attendance. So much awesomeness in one place.

SilmAwards folks! Left to right: Savannah, Deborah, Jenelle Schmidt, Kyle Robert Shultz, me, Madeline J Rose

With my fairies, Christine and Deborah!

Friday was also the night of the awards banquet, where almost everyone shows up in costume. It's one of my favorite parts of the conference--seeing the creativity everywhere, striking up conversations with random strangers about our shared fandoms, snapping dozens (hundreds?) of pictures.

I cosplayed as Linh Cinder of The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, and I was honestly shocked at how many people recognized who I was!

It's Cinder!

With Mary Liz as Mary Poppins (practically perfect in every way!)
(Audrey's photobombing is amazing too)

Madeline's got the epic steampunk look down pat

With Ashley Townsend as Eelyn (from Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young)

With Jenelle as Jyn Erso

With newfound friend Cassandra as my Cinder twin!

With Andy Sheehan as Captain America (he does a great Steve impression too)

With Nadine Brandes as Trelawney (whom I haven't read about yet!)

With a steampunk Mary Weber

With Mollie Reeder as a Jurassic World character and Emily Hayse as Black Widow

With Christine as a steampunk Alice and Deborah as
Princess Kamarie (one of Jenelle Schmidt's characters)

Without meaning to, I ended up sitting at Steve Laube's table for dinner. Yes. The Steve Laube. I sat next to him and fumbled through my meal with my one free hand, my painted hand hovering over my lap so as not to turn everything silver. 'Twas rather amusing.

Steve Laube (wearing a sign that reads "The Dream Crusher)
with Carla Hoch as a rather bloody editor
Later, I was having such fun that I stayed up past midnight chatting with a circle of friends.

Day 4: Saturday

Bryan Davis was in town and stopped at the conference for breakfast! I missed the beginning of his talk, thanks to the aforementioned decision to stay up late, but it was so great to say hello in person (and get one of his latest books signed)!

With Bryan Davis!

With a sweet blog follower named Jessi Rae!
*waves* Thanks for stopping to say hi!

I attended the last session of Chaos and Creativity and Part 2 of Mary and Nadine's YA class (which focused on marketing to YA). In between, I pitched to a second agent--that also went well, thankfully. I later went to a paid faculty lunch, which meant eating the catered hotel food and chatting over dessert with Mary Weber (I love her, guys). Then it was off to several short spotlights and panels, on topics such as editing and writing believable futuristic technology.

Mary gave her closing keynote, full of sisterly advice to writers. Every time she speaks, it seems that she re-centers my focus on what matters.

One of my favorite memories of the conference is Saturday supper. Mary W. and Nadine B. gathered a massive gaggle of fans (mostly from their street teams, but I must've snuck in) for tacos! Yes indeed, I ate tacos three times in two days, and didn't even care.

tacos with the gang

With Instagram and Goodreads friend Heidi

With Katie Grace, who's every bit as sweet in person as she is online

With Instagram friend Rebekah

With Hann, a sweet friend from last year

[Note: I'm very sad to mention that I somehow neglected to get a picture with Blue, a faithful blog follower and lovely friend! Blue, please forgive me!]

That evening, the Realm Makers bookstore was teeming. Authors signed books, readers bought more books than they could carry and stood in line, the raffle prize winners were announced (my pal Audrey won the free conference registration for next year, and I'm so stinkin' happy for her!), and it was basically a bookdragon's heaven. I got books signed by Lindsay Franklin, Nadine Brandes, Mary Weber, Wayne Thomas Batson, Allen Arnold, Jamie Foley, and Kyle Robert Schultz.*

*Thank goodness I had twenty pounds to spare in my suitcase for the flight home.

With Lindsay Franklin

With Wayne Thomas Batson

By the time the book festival wrapped up, I was exhausted. Sadly, I didn't have the energy to join the Nerf war this year, so I watched the first round from the sidelines, than bade a teary goodbye to a couple of friends and retired to my room to pack.

The Nerf war is underway...

Day 5: Sunday

A very sleepy Tracey woke up early to catch her flight home. That's it.

Well, I had to miss Carla Hoch's fight workshop, sadly. But I had a lovely conversation in the St. Louis airport with a gentleman and his wife who were flying to Canada to play golf. And the only other highlight of the day was returning to home soil and reuniting with my family.

Who I Want to Be When I Grow Up

You know how I mentioned that all the authors I met were super nice people? Yeah. That had a bigger impact on me than I expected. I've interacted with plenty of nice authors before--online, in person, at Realm Makers last year--but something about meeting so many of them at once was inspiring. Just a few vignettes . . .

Wayne Thomas Batson // My friends and I interrupted his lunch, and he was totally cool with it. Later, when I got one of his books signed, I confessed that my first novel included a character who was basically a carbon copy of his Captain Valithor, except in dragon form. He seemed to think that was the coolest thing. He told me Valithor's famous jibes were straight from a book of Shakespearean insults.

Nadine Brandes // She is my top favorite Instagrammer ever. I love her color theme, I love her posts, I love how she interacts in the comments. Every time I see a new Nadine picture scrolling by, I smile. (Her YouTube channel is also the best!) And you know what? She is just as kind and encouraging and dorky in real life as she is online. I want to be that genuine too, the kind of person who is the same no matter where you meet her.

Mary Weber // Maybe it's because she's a youth pastor and counsellor as well as author, but this woman has an insane memory. She remembered my name, she remembered meeting me last year, she remembered I have a year left of college. I was blown away, especially after seeing her signing line stretching out the door. She took the time to talk to each and every reader in that three-hour lineup--she made them feel like they mattered.

So many other authors were also wonderful! Not one of them put on airs. I want to be as authentic as they are.

The Story of With

This is actually the title of Allen Arnold's book, but it's also become the title of my own personal encounter with God during Realm Makers.

I'd noticed fear creeping into my writing recently. Feeling the pressure of summer winding down and classes starting soon, I knew my writing time was limited. I found myself projecting this book months into the future and worrying about getting an agent, building my platform, deciding between the general market and the Christian market, etc. When I sat down to edit, I felt like I was spinning my wheels.

This is the mental debris I took with me into Realm Makers.

Then I attended Allen's class and I was reminded of who I am. Who my Father is. I reawakened to the truth that God invites me to co-create with Him joyfully and with abandon. He wants to create with me, not just have me write for Him or about Him. (I wish I could share all my notes with you, but instead I'll just recommend you buy the conference audio!)

I sat there through all three sessions and soaked it all in. This is what I was missing. This joy, this freedom. It dovetailed so beautifully with the little nudges God had been giving me all summer. "Slow down. Pace yourself. There's no rush." But it was about more than just adjusting my pace, it was about the whole act of writing, the entire life of a creative person.

See, when we are faced with chaos in life--which is pretty much most of the time--we react with fear, anger, confusion, and doubt. We try to control it, suppress it, or ignore it. But what did God do in the face of the chaos that was the void, before creation? He stepped into the void and called forth beauty and order. He created. He created in the chaos, and He calls us to do the same.

But not on our own. With Him.

So by the time I sat down in Allen's last class, I was already telling God, "I get it now. I'm surrendering this to You--all the to-do lists and stress and burdens I'm not meant to carry--they're Yours."

Halfway through that final class, I slipped out to a pitch appointment. And it went really well, like I mentioned . . . except that it kind of came with a suggested deadline. A deadline I realistically couldn't meet unless I worked my tail off in the next month before the semester kicks off.

"I just told You I wasn't going to do it this way, God," I told Him. "And now there's this opportunity, and I don't want to miss it."

I hurried back to Allen's class to catch the last half, my mind spinning. At the end, he opened it up for questions. I'm going to ask him about my dilemma afterward, I thought to myself. One on one. No way am I going to open up about it in front of this whole room of people. Yet I found my hand slipping up in the silence, and then I was blurting out my situation and fighting off tears.

Two things you need to know: one, sleep is a low priority at a conference. Two, I'm an easy crier. Mix that with a dream that matters deeply to me, and the waterworks start.

I felt a little embarrassed, wiping my eyes as Allen responded with the encouragement to pray, to tackle this question with God, and to surround myself with prayer warriors. If this was an opportunity God wanted me to take, He would provide everything I needed to make it happen. If not, maybe this door would stand open until next summer (when I'd have more time to walk through it) . . . or a better opportunity would come up. Ultimately, what would give me more life? My old way or God's way?

Turned out that I didn't have to seek out prayer warriors--they found me. The minute the session ended, I was fiercely hugged by two dear friends who shed tears with me and prayed for me right then and there.

As the day wore on, I slipped often into snippets of conversation with God, turning this dilemma over and over. I realized that I felt peace about waiting. About giving myself and my manuscript the time we both needed. It's what I had been getting little nudges about all summer, and here it was: the chance to choose a path of peace rather than one of striving.

Later that evening, I had the chance to chat with Allen again. He asked me if God had given me any direction so far, and I shared the decision I'd come to. We then had a very encouraging discussion, and now I know.

If there was one reason I had to attend Realm Makers this year, this was the reason. This reawakening of my heart, this peace. I'm walking into my story with my Father.

Realm Makers was a power-packed experience, brimming with the laughter of fellow dreamers and the buoyancy that comes only from bumping into God and realizing He was right beside me this whole time. I'm planning to attend again. Next year, same time, same place! Maybe I'll see you there.