Monday, November 12, 2018

Dust & Clay

Photo by Paul Robert on Unsplash // Graphics mine


On the days you feel lifeless
Hopeless
Breathless


You are more.


When all you hold is dust
Sand
Ash


There is more.


When your mind whispers lies
And the mirror tells you lies
And the world screams lies


Look for more.


Still, Eternal One, You are our Father.

We are just clay, and You are the potter.

We are the product of Your creative action, shaped and formed into something of worth.

Isaiah 64:8 (The Voice)



Clay is common. It's dirt. It's walked on, buried, and disregarded. It's worthless.


But the moment an artist scoops clay onto the potter's wheel and shapes it into something, that clay is imbued with value. Someone with expertise and creative vision has turned it into a work of art, and the artist's fingerprints are all over it. It has become a beautiful expression of the creator's heart.


It matters.


One day the Eternal God scooped dirt out of the ground,

sculpted it into the shape we call human,

breathed the breath that gives life into the nostrils of the human,

and the human became a living soul."

Genesis 2:7 (The Voice)


Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

You are not worth anything based on what you are made of. You are worth something based on who made you. The Artist's signature on your soul is living proof. The breath in your lungs--which isn't yours--is proof.


I am dust

You are God

I am breathless

Till You fill my lungs

-Dust, Steffany Gretzinger





I feel dusty sometimes. No matter how hard I try, my earthiness persists. I would rather be a vessel of polished marble or wondrous crystal, but instead I am a jar of clay. Yet I am worth more than a marble vase created by an amateur sculptor, because I was crafted by an expert artisan, and somehow He saw fit to place the treasure of His life within me.


But this beautiful treasure is contained in us--cracked pots made of earth and clay--so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from us.

...So we have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day.

2 Corinthians 4:7 & 16 (The Voice)


Breathe life today, friend. Walk through the dust and keep your chin up, because you are made worthy. You are an exclusive art exhibit on display in this world, authenticated by the Artist's unmistakeable touch.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Writers: How to Engage the Five Senses

Writers, have you ever received a critique saying that your story wasn't immersive enough? Have you ever heard, "Show, don't tell?" Have you ever struggled to convey your story's setting in a way that doesn't devolve into paragraph upon paragraph of dry exposition?


And readers, have you ever read a scene that felt like talking heads in a white room, with nothing to paint a picture of the surroundings? Have you ever felt detached from the main character, like you've become an outside observer instead of being welcomed into the character's deepest thoughts and feelings?


If you said yes to any of those questions, I've got a technique that will help you!



The writers among us, that is. The only help the readers will receive is an understanding of one reason why they may not click with a story. Sorry, guys.


Let's talk about THE FIVE SENSES.




Before you roll your eyes and tell me, "Yes, yes, we learned this in kindergarten," hear me out. Your story is lush and alive and teeming with creativity . . . in your mind. The challenge of writing is to transfer that vision to the page. It's harder than it looks. You have a living movie reeling through your thoughts, but the page? The page is blank until you start putting that movie into words.


And some things get lost in translation. I've written story elements that seemed so clear and obvious in my mind, only to have beta readers get confused.

I've written descriptions I thought were the most brilliantly vivid words to grace the page, until I reread it the next day and found it flat and lifeless.
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I've been writing long enough to have gotten better at this over time, but it's still something I wrestle with, particularly in first drafts. It might be a skill we writers will never perfect, but can continue improving.


So how do we transform lifeless prose and blank white rooms into that Technicolor movie in our heads?


Engage the senses.



Sight. Sound. Smell. Taste. Touch.


When you draw on all of them, your setting--and more importantly, your character's experiences within the setting--will come alive.


You may find yourself leaning on one or two of the five senses and neglecting the others. I depend most heavily on sight, as do most writers, I suspect. My default is to describe what the setting looks like. Perhaps that is the most important sense most of the time. After all, if the reader cannot picture what a place looks like, it's very difficult to choreograph action or ground a scene.


But sight alone is not enough. Your character has more than eyes--he or she has ears, a tongue, a nose, and skin, and all of these are just as busy experiencing his or her surroundings as yours are. In battle, your character will not just see an enemy horde. He will taste dirt and blood, hear the moans of the dying, feel his arms vibrate with a heavy sword strike. Cozied around a campfire, your character will not merely see the flickering orange flames. She will feel their heat and smell the smoke and hear the crackle of popping logs.


When dispensers of writing advice admonish you to show, not tell, what they often mean is that instead of cruising over the landscape with a cursory "he did this and she felt that," you should dive deep into the sensory experience.


Here are a few examples, some from my own writing, others from published books I've read.


SIGHT


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Throngs of people choked a road winding uphill toward the castle. [The Brightest Thread]

What do we see? Crowds, a twisty road, and some sense of a castle.


Shadows pooled between the trees. [The Brightest Thread]

We see a forest, and the verb choice gives us a sense of mystery.


Norwood stood at his dented and stained herb table, the backdrop of his curio cabinet displaying rows of green-hued bottles and jars, most of which held some sort of powder, paste, or plant. [Fawkes, Nadine Brandes)


These little details--the dented table, green bottles, powders and pastes--are potent enough to create an entire aesthetic for the room.




SOUND



Low, rumbly voices filtered through the undergrowth, too muffled to make out the words. [The Brightest Thread]


In one sentence we know there are multiple speakers, they are some distance away, and they are either male or monstrous. (Correct answer: they're ogres.)


The yellow flags above me snap sharp and loud in the breeze as if to emphasize my owner's words that yes, she's quite aware such a high count is utterly ridiculous. [Storm Siren, Mary Weber]


"Snap" is a punchy verb bolstered by the two adjectives "sharp" and "loud," which together call to mind exactly the sound you're supposed to hear.


Image result for pixar gifs SMELL




The warm scents of buttered loaves and seasoned roasts were all that was left of the feast. [The Brightest Thread]


Is your mouth watering yet?


Moist air wafted past my nose, carrying the odor of a brewery--malt and hops. [Reapers, Bryan Davis]


In this scene, we're getting a sense of where the protagonist lives, and the smell of a brewery adds a unique detail.


The odor of fish mixed with the scent of roses, berries, fresh bread. Blood from the slaughter stall constricted my throat. [Fawkes, Nadine Brandes]


Ah, nothing like the blend of aromas from a seventeenth century London marketplace, am I right?


TASTE


It took her awhile, but her reaction is priceless!!
He tosses a berry in a high arc toward me. I catch it in my mouth and break the delicate skin with my teeth. The sweet tartness explodes across my tongue. [The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins]


Mmm, now I'm hungry for berries . . .


(Oddly enough, I had a terribly hard time finding more good examples for this sense. It seems that the mere mention of food is often enough to conjure an idea of its taste. Other tastes often found in the books I read are blood, alcohol, salt, medicine, etc.*)


*Sounds like I read fantasy. *wink*


TOUCH



Aleida jumped off the log and stumbled on unsteady feet. Her skin buzzed with the aftermath of magic. [The Brightest Thread]


We all know how it feels to stumble or feel unsteady. We also get a sense of electricity with the word buzzed.


Thorns scratched her ankles and tree limbs whipped past her face. [The Brightest Thread]


Rather than just knowing the character is running through a forest, we feel the scratches of thorns and branches reaching out to block her way.


Prickly vibrations raced along my cloak from the baggy sleeves to the top of the hood, tickling the two-day stubble across my cheeks and chin. [Reapers, Bryan Davis]


Here a sensation is woven into the book's first clues about who the protagonist is (a male wearing a cloak).


All Together Now!



Now that we've seen the five senses in action, let's see what it looks like when multiple senses are used together.



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Birdsong filtered through the branches. Every rock and pine needle poked her slippers, but it didn’t matter. She was out; she was on an adventure and about to set her parents at ease. The thought of someone detecting her absence and giving chase prodded her into a light run. How good it felt to stretch her legs. [The Brightest Thread]


The only explicitly referenced senses are hearing (birdsong) and touch (poking her slippers, stretching her legs). But notice how other senses are implied? You might have pictured the forest, since branches, rocks, and pine needles are mentioned (sight). You may have even assumed the temperature (touch again) or imagined the scent of forest air (smell).


In well-written description it's not the quantity of senses used, but the quality that depicts the mood.


The important thing isn't to reel out a grocery list of sensory inputs every time your character walks onto a new scene. It's to use whichever senses are most important at the moment and let the reader's imagination fill in the gaps.

And that, my writer friends, is one way to immerse your reader in every scene you write! It's not the only tool by any means, but it certainly goes a long way in painting a vivid picture that lives and moves and breathes.



***


Assignment #1: If you're looking to practice this method, try reading a chapter of your current work-in-progress and highlighting every sensory description. See which senses you use most often. Consider which senses are underused. Look for places you haven't described any senses at all. Then dive in and make some changes!


Assignment #2: Crack open a favorite book and page to your favorite chapter. On a separate piece of paper, make two columns. In the first, list all the senses that the author explicitly describes. In the second, list all the extra, unwritten senses you imagine as you read. Have fun!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Subplots and Storylines - August and September 2018



Hey friends, it's been a while! My blogging schedule laughed at me and took a plane to Antarctica, I think. What with the fantastic Silmaril Awards taking place, I haven't written a "normal" post since July. And since I missed the August edition of S&S, we've got a double feature today!



Life Subplots



August:
  • Relaxing
  • Editing The Brightest Thread
  • Preparing for college year 2
  • Picking apples
  • Enjoying fresh corn on the cob
  • College started on the last week of the month


September:
  • The Silmaril Awards 2018 was a smashing success
  • Nature had the nerve to snow on the very first day of autumn (thank goodness it didn't stick around)
  • I got a cold
  • Other than that, my days revolved around school. Because I switched campuses, I now spend 2-3 hours driving back and forth every day.
  • There's been a ton of homework and group work. No solitary Batman gig for me. But that's okay. I'm learning all sorts of cool things about business and marketing.
  • My biggest school project involves building a business with my team--coming up with an idea, validating it with input from real businesspeople, completing a feasibility study . . . and there's lots more to come. So if things are a little quiet here at Adventure Awaits, you know why.


Screen Storylines



August


Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 1 (two episodes)
It's been so long, I honestly don't remember what exactly I saw. It was probably fun, though!


Once Upon a Time Season 6 (two episodes)
Some good bits . . . but also a lot that fell flat. The new villainess (SPOILER: The Black Fairy) just isn't scary. She's hyped up as this dark, twisted being who's behind all sorts of other darkness, but when you meet her . . . eh. I didn't even flinch. Kind of disappointing.


Stay Here (two episodes)
This is a Netflix show about people who renovate short-term rentals like cottages and B&Bs, and also totally transform the owners' marketing strategies. I had to watch one episode for a school assignment, but enjoyed it enough to watch two!


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The Lone Ranger
I've been meaning to see this one ever since it came out. With a generous helping of embellishment and comedy, this wild west story was a lot of fun from start to finish. Johnny Depp is hilarious as Tonto. (And come on, that soundtrack is glorious.)


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Now You See Me
While not kid-friendly, this was surprisingly engaging! The cast was spot-on, the magic tricks were fascinating, the plot kept me guessing, and I didn't see that twist coming. Definitely need to see the sequel.


Related imageInfinity War (rewatch)
You all know how I feel about this one. *proceeds to curl into a ball and sob in a corner*


September


Once Upon a Time Season 4 (just one episode)
Boy, my siblings and I are rewatching OUAT very s l o w l y. We started the season a couple months ago, and we're only on episode four. But Hook is as awesome as ever, and I'd forgotten how much I like Will (as stupid as he is sometimes).
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The Fellowship of the Ring (rewatch)
A friend and I needed a fantasy fix, so we started watching LotR. We were both exhausted though, so we only made it through the first half.


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AREN'T THEY CUTE?
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
The wizarding world is so much fun! Already Harry, Ron, and Hermione look and act a bit older than in the first movie, and I loved watching their shenanigans. Aragog was genuinely creepy. *shudders*


Page Subplots



There's surprisingly quite a few books to talk about, so let's do these reviews blitzkrieg style!*


*lightning war . . . short and to the point? I dunno, does that make sense?


August


Image result for embers ronie kendig
Embers // Ronie Kendig
Loved the concept! A fire-wielding princess trades places with her crippled brother, and he must go on a quest to save her from his own paralyzed fate. Prince Haegan was a well-rounded protagonist whom I quite liked. Definitely some Avatar: The Last Airbender vibes with the fire abilities too. The only snags? The book took a little while to get going, slowed down by lots of points of view. Still, things were being set up for some epicness! 4 stars. (See my full review on Goodreads for more details.)


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The Bones of Makaidos // Bryan Davis
One of my absolute favorite Bryan Davis books ever! Lots of tension as the full cast of characters gathers for war and so many people get hurt. Beautiful themes of sacrificial love are woven throughout. All the plot threads are brought to a graceful, stirring finale. 5 stars!


Fairest Son // H.S.J. Williams
I reviewed this lovely little Snow White novella in August! 5 stars!


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Quiet // Susan Cain
A fascinating (nonfiction) book on the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking. I appreciated that the author didn't really do any extrovert-bashing in the process of affirming introverts' strengths. I now feel a bit more aware of why I think the way I do, why busy social settings tire me out, how I can create space for myself to recharge, and how I can bring quiet strength into any situation. 4 stars.


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Hacker // Ted Dekker
While it may not be my top favorite Dekker novel ever, it was still a great ride. I've found that the Outlaw series reads more like allegories or extended metaphors than anything else. Hacker took a surprising look at the reality of the unseen world. Hacking the human conscience was a nifty way to go about it. 4 stars.


September


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The Story of With // Allen Arnold
This unique book is part allegorical fiction, part inspiring nonfiction--and its message is life-changing. I had the pleasure of meeting the author at Realm Makers and attending his classes on the very topic written about in his book. (Scroll to the end of the linked post to see how amazing that was!) There were a few typos I wish had been cleaned up, but this is still a book I'll want to reread in the future. And I actually--gasp--attacked it with a pencil and underlined things! 5 stars!


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All seven Chronicles of Narnia audio dramas // C.S. Lewis
On my long commutes, I took to listening to Focus on the Family's radio theater version of this beloved series! Bless my heart, it was so, so good to return to Narnia. I found tears coming to my eyes multiple times as I followed the characters on their wild adventures, encountering Aslan in the most unexpected places. 5 stars for all of them!


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Song of the Ovulum // Bryan Davis
This tale picks up fifteen years after The Bones of Makaidos, with a new generation of characters. The world is now fraught with danger for dragonkind. I really enjoyed rereading Matt and Lauren's adventure, and I love how strong their sibling bond becomes over such a short span of time. Joren and Selah's storyline, too, was really good. "What color is mercy?" is a question that haunts both Joren and the reader, and it is answered beautifully by the end. 5 stars!


Written Storylines



August


I surpassed my editing goals for the month by working through The Brightest Thread chapters 6-11. I'm still not 100% happy with the beginning (#recoveringperfectionist) but I have ideas for how to strengthen it later. The important thing is that I made forward progress.


September


Nothing. Zilch. Nada.


I've relinquished my writing goals during college, so I suppose you could say I accomplished everything I set out to write in September--which was nothing! Yay me! That has actually been one of the more difficult things about school, but I'm consoling myself with the truth that I'm living life right now, and that will mean more life to pour into my stories later.


Thanks for sticking around, fellow questers! I hope to get back to a biweekly posting schedule as promised, but in case all goes silent here, don't panic--probably just doing battle with the Beast of Homework. I still love you guys, and I'm positively brimming with ideas for how to shake things up around here next spring. In the meantime, tell me how your autumn is going. Happy October!

Friday, September 28, 2018

SilmAwards - Most Magnificent Dragon Winner!



All is black. But the blackness feels big, as if the ceiling must be far overhead and the walls many spans apart. There is a rustling and the warmth of many bodies gathered in one place. Hushed whispers pass back and forth.

Then with a whoosh, torches flame to life and illuminate a massive cavern. Stalactites jag from the ceiling like great teeth. At one end, a stone slab is raised to serve as a stage, and the crowd of people are gathered before it.

"Greetings!" I shout from the stage, my voice echoing without the use of a microphone. "What a fine turnout we've had for the 2018 Silmaril Awards. Welcome to the final ceremony--today Smaug himself will award a Silmaril to the most magnificent dragon!"

Cheers resound.

"Before he arrives, just a quick recap in case you missed any of the awards ceremonies." I pull a list from my pocket. "This year's winners have included a very sportsmanlike but incompetent henchman, a collection of mischevous imps, a rather strange and sock-ish fellow, a not-so-little faithful friend, a beloved silver tongue, a wise and academically-inclined counselora glamorous villain, a princely hero, and a spirited heroine."

I gulp in a deep breath. "And now I do believe I'll pass things off to--"

A great rumbling fills the cavern. Guests look around worriedly.

"MY ARMOR IS LIKE TENFOLD SHIELDS," a voice booms from someplace unseen. "MY TEETH ARE SWORDS, MY CLAWS SPEARS, THE SHOCK OF MY TAIL A THUNDERBOLT, MY WINGS A HURRICANE, AND MY BREATH DEATH!"
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Flames gush from a side passage. All at once, a humongous red-golden dragon bursts into the cavern and leaps onto stage. I sidestep to avoid the thrash of his tail.

"Smaug!" I say. "We were just talking about--"

"SILENCE!" he roars. "You have summoned me to present another Silmaril, and a Silmaril I shall present. Where are the worthy contestants?" He swings his head back and forth, luminous eyes scanning the audience. Everyone shrinks back in fear.
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A much smaller, black dragon is the only one to chitter happily, a gleaming gem hanging around his neck.

"Ah, the toothless winner of last year," Smaug says. "I should hope this year's victor boasts a few more teeth than you, night fury."

Toothless grins, teeth rising from his gums to flash in the firelight.
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I clap my hands together, lest these two dragons begin a fire fest, and call out, "Contestants, please come forward!"

Five figures venture out from another side tunnel and join us on the stony stage. I pull a scroll from my other pocket and unroll it so Smaug can read it. He lowers his head and peers at the scroll with one eye.

"In fifth place with twenty votes . . ." He glances at the contestants. "Kazul from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles."

Kazul bows her head to the audience and flies off the stage.

"Fraternizes with humans, that one," Smaug mutters. "I smell princess all over her. Ahem. In fourth place with twenty-two votes . . . Gem from The Ilyon Chronicles."

A blue and black dragoness flutters her wings in thanks, then joins Kazul on the ground.

"Do all these dragons make friends with men?" Smaug grumbles. "I should think such friendships diminish their magnificence, small though it may be."

"Not all dragons believe that magnificence is measured by gold and power," I say.

He snorts a plume of smoke and returns to the scroll. "In third place with thirty-five votes . . . Death-in-Life from Tales of Goldstone Wood."

An imposing dragon with black scales and glittering eyes shoots a tongue of flame. "Third place? How dare the hearts of men reject me!"

Smaug chuckles deep in his throat. "Now there's a more magnificent beast. Not quite so magnificent as myself, of course."

Death-in-Life storms from the cavern with a mighty shriek. By the relieved sighs from the audience, all are glad to see him leave.

"In second place with forty-four votes . . . Malcolm Blackfire from The Afterverse."

This time, boisterous cheers erupt as a great red dragon with piercing golden eyes steps forward. "Yes, yes, Headmaster of Warrengate Academy of Advanced Magic and all that rot. I must say, I am surprised to hear you cheering for me in this scaly form. Usually you prefer to see me in my natural state." Fire crackles and whirls around him, and he dwindles to a much smaller form. The blaze vanishes, leaving behind a tall, lanky man with grey-streaked red hair. He brushes an ember from the sleeve of his suit jacket. "Is this better?"

The audience whistles and claps all the louder.

Smaug thumps his tail, shaking the stone slab. "A dragon who is a man? Could your selection become any worse? Away with you, shape shifter."

"Careful, Volcano-Breath," Malcolm snaps. "In my dragon form, I'm really quite deadly." But he stalks off the stage just the same.

"Well," I say brightly. "It should be obvious now who the winner is. You may feel free to return to your Mountain now, Smaug . . ."

Before I can roll up the scroll, Smaug gets a glimpse of the final name. He spits a fireball, and I only just manage to let go of the scroll before it is consumed.

"WHAT IS THIS OUTRAGE?" He whirls around to face the last contestant, a small boy standing all alone with his hands behind his back.

The boy blanches under Smaug's stare. "Er . . . hullo, Sir Dragon. I'm Eustace Clarence Scrubb, but I'd prefer if you called me Eustace. Or Scrubb would do just--"

"A BOY?" Smaug roars. "I thought this award was to go to the most magnificent dragon, yet here the people have muddied the waters and voted for . . . for weak, incompetent, folly-some humans." Sparks fly from his large maw with every word, and the audience shuffles backward to put more space between themselves and Smaug's rage.

"He did receive a whopping seventy-three votes, Smaug," I say.

"Now see here," Eustace cries, "if you incinerate me, Mr. Dragon, I'll call the British Consul!"

I send him a warning look.

Eustace straightens his shirt and turns a little red. "I mean, that wouldn't be proper. You see, I was a dragon once."

"You?" sneers Smaug.

"Yes. And I'm all the better for it. It was a miserable experience, but thank Aslan I came out the other side of that ordeal a very different boy."

"Aslan?" More smoke pours from Smaug's nostrils. "And who, pray tell, is he?"

"Only the greatest king there ever was, the Son of the Emperor Across the Sea." Eustace pauses, and his eyes seem to tear up with memories. "He's a lion."

Smaug roars louder than ever and grit falls from the ceiling. "Enough! When you foolish folk decide to cease turning the Silmaril Awards into a circus, then perhaps you may call me to present again. I am through!" He beats his powerful wings and flies from the cavern, nearly snuffing out the torches in his wake.
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I chuckle nervously. "Ah, he'll cool down before next year. In the meantime, Eustace, may I just say that I think you are a most worthy recipient of this year's Silmaril." I reach into yet another pocket and beckon him nearer.


Eustace approaches and kneels before me.


"Congratulations, Eustace." I pull out a gleaming red pendant, a jewel hanging from a satin ribbon, and loop it over his head. "Let this be a reminder of where you have traveled and what you have become!"


Eustace breaks into a grin and stands to his feet as the audience breaks into the most thunderous applause yet.




"And that, my friends, concludes the 2018 Silmaril Awards!" I shout. "Thank you all! I bid you all a very fond farewell!"


Monday, September 10, 2018

SilmAwards Voting Round - Most Magnificent Dragon



Wasn't that a delightful flurry of activity last week? It was such fun seeing the nominations come pouring in across all ten categories of the Silmaril Awards! I think my TBR stack has grown . . . *gulp* . . . a few feet taller.


Now comes the time for the top five nominations in every category to move on to the voting round. While tallying up the scaly critters flying and flaming across Adventure Awaits this weekend, I had the misfortune of getting in the crossfire of several worthy dragons all vying for a spot in the top five. There was, you see, a four-way tie for the fifth spot. Competition was fierce. I even sport the burns, claw marks, and singed hair to prove it. But it's a small price to pay as a SilmAwards host.


So which dragons wrangled their way into the voting round?


Malcolm Blackfire from the Afterverse by Kyle Robert Schultz

Ancient. Mysterious. Sarcastic. Scottish. (Well, Caledonian, if we’re being technical.) Malcolm has little patience for humanity, and is not above immolating those who annoy him. However, when great evil arises in the Afterlands, he will ultimately fight to save humans--even though his methods cannot always be described as “heroic”. Plus, while he will never admit it, he has a fondness for the pathetic non-dragons, so long as they don’t try to pilfer from his hoard. His ability to shift into human form has allowed him to wear many hats over the centuries: military general, archaeologist, and even headmaster of a magical school. But all the same, he doesn’t feel truly himself unless he’s curled up on a pile of gold. Or soaring above the rooftops, shooting fireballs at peasants, but he doesn’t get many chances to do that in this tiresome modern age.

Gem from the Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight

This non-speaking female dragon with blue and black scales is brave in battle and seems to understand her new rider's fear of heights. After her previous rider tragically perished, she was hurt and depressed until her new rider nursed her back to health. Now she is his faithful dragon.


Eustace Clarence Scrubb from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

Although not a dragon by nature, this petulant young boy spent some time in dragon form during his adventures aboard the Dawn Treader. It was a rather disagreeable experience, but the very scales that hardened his skin turned out to soften his heart. Eustace was never quite the same again (and you can be sure his cousins were most grateful for the change).


Kazul from the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

Kazul is fairly level-headed, for a dragon, though sometimes she can let her dislike for wizards overwhelm her... she's been known to eat more than one, especially if they are found inside the borders of her realm (she is King of the Dragons, after all) or messing with dragonsbane, a plant toxic to dragons. A while back, she agreed to take a princess who volunteered to be captured by a dragon, and the arrangement has been beneficial to both of them, as Cimorene's ability to bake Cherries Jubilee and organize her treasure room leaves Kazul with the ability to focus on the more difficult aspects of ruling her subjects.

Death-in-Life from Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Whether he walks as a tall, pale-skinned man or a massive, black-scaled dragon, Death-in-Life has been known to strike terror in the hearts of many. The lives of men mean little to him, to the point that he gambles with his evil sister for their souls. Deathly poison clouds any place he settles. With a kiss on the brow, he steals the hearts of the unguarded and turns them into dragons themselves. He is so feared that his name has become a curse.



Remember, the voting period is open from September 10-14!



Use the voting form below to cast your votes for all ten categories! Note: you only need to vote once, but you may want to visit all ten participating blogs to read descriptions of the contestants.


CLICK HERE TO CAST YOUR VOTES.


Least Competent Henchman // Jenelle Schmidt
Most Nefarious Villain // Kyle Robert Schultz
Most Epic Hero // E.E. Rawls
Most Epic Heroine // Madeline J. Rose
Most Magnificent Dragon // right here!
Most Faithful Friend // Savannah Grace
Most Mischievous Imp // Abbey Stellingwerff
Strangest Character // Zachary Totah
Silver Tongue // DJ Edwardson
Wisest Counselor // Deborah O'Carroll


Monday, September 3, 2018

SilmAwards - Most Magnificent Dragon Nominations

Welcome, my friends, to the third annual Silmaril Awards!



The Silmaril Awards are like the Oscars for fantasy characters. And you get to nominate (and later vote) for your most beloved heroes, villains, sidekicks, and more! I look forward to this time every year. There's such an outpouring of energy and enthusiasm among fans as we chat about our favorite fantasy books and the characters who live within.


Rules



We have a shiny new website officially set up this year, with the full rundown on rules and past winners right HERE. Here's a brief explanation of how the awards work:


  • You may nominate as many characters as you wish.
  • You may also second as many characters nominated by others as you choose. The more "seconds" (and thirds, fourths, etc) a character receives, the more likely that character will move on to the voting round, which will be the top five most nominated characters from each category.
  • Nominations are allowed for fantasy book characters only! (Movie characters are not allowed, unless the book came first).
  • The Silmaril Awards are "lifetime" awards. Characters who have already won a Silmaril in previous years are not eligible to win the same award again (though they may win other awards.) For a list of past winners, please visit silmarilawards.com.




Important Dates



Mark your calendars so you don't miss out on anything!


Nominations run from September 3-7 // This is when you throw alllll your favorite characters into the ring in hopes they'll get seconded/thirded/fourthed/etc. by others.

Voting runs from September 10-14 // This is when you pull out your hair and scream into the void over the impossibility of choosing between the top five nominations in each category.

Awards ceremonies take place September 17-28 // This is when you wait with bated breath for the winners to be announced! A coveted Silmaril will be awarded to each winner by one of Tolkien's famed characters.

Speaking of Tolkien, his characters are not eligible for the awards! Why, you ask with a gasp? Because his works set such a standard for the fantasy genre, and because they are beloved by so many, we thought the characters of Middle Earth deserved to be presenters of the awards rather than contestants. (Or else they'd steal the show!)

Awards Categories


Head over to each stop this week to nominate characters in all the categories!

Least Competent Henchman // Jenelle Schmidt
Most Nefarious Villain // Kyle Robert Schultz
Most Epic Hero // E.E. Rawls
Most Epic Heroine // Madeline J. Rose
Most Magnificent Dragon // right here!
Most Faithful Friend // Savannah Grace
Most Mischievous Imp // Abbey Stellingwerff
Strangest Character // Zachary Totah
Silver Tongue // DJ Edwardson
Wisest Counselor // Deborah O'Carroll

Most Magnificent Dragon Nominations


With that said, I am ever so pleased about hosting the Most Magnificent Dragon category! After hosting Wisest Counselor and Best Riddling and Poetry*, it seemed only natural to let my favorite scaly creatures invade Adventure Awaits.


*which was later renamed to Silver Tongue, FYI


What sort of dragon are we looking for? Why, the most magnificent kind, of course! That could mean the humongous dragons with infernos in their bellies . . . or the miniature, kitten-like dragons with big personalities . . . or the clever, gold-hoarding dragons with a gleam in their eyes. It could be the dragons that make you cower under the blankets in fear, the ones that make your heart swell with noble happiness, or the ones that make you want a dragon for your best friend. Talking dragons, non-speaking dragons, good ones and bad ones and in-between ones--we want you to head down to the comments and nominate your favorites! (As many as you wish, remember!)


It's up to you. Those winged beasts of terror and majesty aren't going to nominate themselves!



P.S. Don't forget, last year's winner of the Most Magnificent Dragon Silmaril was Toothless, so he's no longer eligible.


P.P.S. Share on social media and grab all your fantasy-loving friends to come nominate characters too! Use #SilmAwards or #SilmAwards2018.


P.P.P.S. If you have any questions about the awards or how they work, ask away in the comments.

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

Preparation



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!


Recovery



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!

Announcement



(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.