Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 in Writing

     Though my reading life hasn’t suffered as much during the school year as I thought it would, my writing life certainly has. (I think it’s because I’m already doing so much writing for class that when I come home I just want to do something that doesn’t involve thinking. So I basically just watch TV or find a fluffy novel.)

     BUT…I did accomplish some things!

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     Most majorly, I wrote and published With Blossoms Gold. I had written the first 3 ½ chapters about four five years ago, but other than that I pretty much started from scratch with it this year. (And I ended up extensively revising those chapters—I think only two scenes really got salvaged and used in the final copy.) At any rate, I’m planning to publish this one as a stand-alone in paperback form this spring. And of course, you can buy it right now as part of the Once e-book box set here.

     I didn’t finish January Snow, but I’m hoping to get to it this spring. I have been having a lot of trouble with that one and some frustrating character issues, plus I’ve also been getting a bit discouraged with it because my take on the Snow White story might not be quite as original as I thought it was when I began (sometimes browsing on Goodreads can be a curse. Sigh.) However, I think I’m starting to get a hold of just who these characters are, and that’s helping a lot.  

     Most recently, I just started a Little Mermaid retelling that I’m excited about. I’m already about 1/3 of the way through with the first draft. If I thought With Blossoms Gold stretched me out of my comfort zone, then this one is taking that to the next level.  Even though this one is booking along a lot faster than January Snow ever has, I still want to finish and publish that first, which means it may be a while before I tell you guys more about this one. BUT I’M REALLY EXCITED ABOUT IT.

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     I’ve also been working on a couple more short stories/novelettes, and wrote one or two poems that will never see the light of day.

     So I finished one thing, let two major projects languish in a closet, started one new major thing and wrote a few scribbles on the side. Not my most productive year, but I certainly wasn’t a total failure.

Fellow writers, was this year a productive one for you?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 in Books

     At the beginning of the year, I vowed to read less. I can’t say I’m a reading glutton, as I’m not constantly with my face in a book. But I also tend to read far too much, simply because I’m a fast reader. In 2015 I read 180 books, so I decided to read less in 2016, and attempt to make at least 50% of my reading centered on the classics.

     Well….I read about 137 books. So I did read less, but even counting the cookbooks, coloring books, and novellas that contribute to that number, it was FAR more than I thought I read this year in my attempt to choose quality over quantity.  Also, though I did read many classic books (including finishing my goal of re-reading the entire Sherlock Holmes canon) my list didn’t quite make the cut of making 50%. Also, I did re-read my Bible. It’s been a couple years since I tried doing the whole thing in a year, and this time I actually finished a month early! I think in 2017 I’ll try reading it backward, Revelation to Genesis.

Some reading highlights of 2016 include:

  • C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy—I FINALLY read these after borrowing them from a friend. At times obscure and at other times with no trace of subtlety whatsoever, if you want a book to chew and think on in addition to enjoying, this series is just the ticket.

  • Diving into some early classics I’d been avoiding—A.K.A Greek drama which I’m currently in the middle of and have found depressing but much more enjoyable and understandable than I was expecting. (In other words, nothing to dread). I also made my way through Augustine’s Confessions, Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, and Machiavelli’s The Prince. Sometimes a girl has to widen her horizons beyond the Victorian era, however much she balks.

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events— I got halfway through these last year during my first semester at college and finished them the next semester. I do have some mixed feelings about them, but overall they are some of the most thought-provoking “kids’ books” that I’ve ever come across. I may get Netflix for the sole purpose of watching their adaptation on there. (Who am I kidding? Unless one of my friends is totally willing to let me come over and binge watch the whole series, I’m definitely getting it)

  • Good YA fiction—I actually found some YA that I truly liked! The odd but strangely endearing My Lady Jane for one, and the Jackaby series for another.

  • Five Magic Spindles—Rooglewood’s collections keep getting better and better! This one was truly worth picking up, and there wasn’t a single story in it that I didn’t like. I’m really looking forward to their next collection, whichever fairy tale it might be.

  • Discovering Kindle freebies—Because I’m not much of a e-reader, I hadn’t really explored these options. But I do like reading shorter works and taking advantage of kindle’s free promotions, I discovered some new indie authors, especially those who write fairy tale retellings…which I obviously have a weakness for.

  • The Sherlock Holmes stories—as I mentioned, I reread these this year. I know I like these books, but for some reason I always forget just how much I really do love them. And how funny they can be.
     Some of my other personal favorites of the year were A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Dracula by Bram Stoker, A Branch of Silver, A Branch of Gold by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Pendragon’s Heir by Suzannah Rowntree, and (with some disclaimers) A Passage to Shambhala by Jon Baird.

     My reading goals for 2017 do go a bit along the same lines as those in 2016: read less, don’t waste my time with mediocre books, read more classics, read more non-fiction. For Christmas I got a collection of classic adventure stories, which will probably contribute to a large portion of my literature menu for this year. I’m also planning on finishing the complete plays of Sophocles and reading Homer’s Odyssey. I’m incredibly excited about taking a British novels class this coming semester and while I’ve read most of the assigned books already (it focuses mainly on Victorian literature, which you all know is a major interest of mine!) I’ll be rereading several books I haven’t picked up in years (including my much-adored Emma and a chance to try out my now-much-better-French-skills on Charlotte Brontë’s Villette). Hopefully, if I can get my hands on them, I’d like to try more books by Rafael Sabatini and buy some novels from my favorite indie authors.

     I’ll have another post up before the new year on what I accomplished with my writing this year (and believe me, it’s a much shorter list!).

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

In Which I Emerge From My Den And Join the Living (Maybe)

     Note to self: if you take an extra class one semester thinking it's not going to be a big deal or a lot of extra work WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU ARE WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.

     Okay, actually, it really wasn't that bad. But it definitely cut out blogging for me, as well as a few other various and sundry fun activities (like pleasure reading) for a while. Also I was trying to publish a book at the same no time for socialization. Well, not time for much socialization.

     So I know that aside from my Once posts, I haven't been doing much in the blogging world. That's totally okay: blogging isn't life and it's something I do for fun, not something that I'm obligated to do. While I'm in college it's taken a backseat, and I'm fine with that. But I do feel a bit guilty about not keeping up with all of you lovely people. I'd like to say that I'm back, at least until January, but the fact is I have no idea. I might end up posting a lot. And I might end up just baking cookies, gorging myself on candy, and trying not to electrocute myself with Christmas lights. I JUST DON'T KNOW.

     But the fact is, I survived Fall 2016. I'M DONE FOR THE SEMESTER! Time for Christmas break!
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Friday, December 2, 2016

ONCE Release + Excerpt!

It's here, my friends! Once is here!

Six fairytales you thought you knew, set against a tapestry of historical backgrounds.

A lonely girl plots revenge in the shadow of a mountain. A stolen princess fumbles a century backward. A dwarfish man crafts brilliant automatons. A Polish Jew strikes matches against the Nazis. A dead girl haunts a crystal lake. A terrified princess searches a labyrinth. A rich collection of six historically inspired retellings, Once is a new generation of fairytales for those who thought they'd heard the tales in all their forms.

Featuring the novellas of Elisabeth Grace Foley, Rachel Heffington, J Grace Pennington, Emily Ann Putzke, Suzannah Rowntree, and Hayden Wand.

     It's been several months of hard work getting to this point, but Once is finally ready to be sent out into the world. Publishing a new work is one of the most exciting (and nerve-wracking!) times for a writer, and I'm both exuberant and a little nervous. :) However, I'm glad to be in this together with some truly wonderful ladies that I've gotten to know oh-so-much better through this project. And now, to get you excited, we're all sharing excerpts from our stories!

Here's a passage from With Blossoms Gold, my Rapunzel retelling:

     I wasn’t that Benedict disliked the idea of marriage, exactly. But it had always seemed to him a pleasant but far-off dream for when his days of thrill-seeking and adventure were over. And as every betrothal he’d ever entered into had ended due to circumstances beyond his control, he’d grown used to bachelorhood. But now, after Cécile, his failed romances seemed more like the result of a curse than mere misfortune. At least his other fiancées hadn’t tried to kill him. At best, he wanted to wait. Forty seemed a good age for marriage. He had told his brother that once, and Orlando had nearly given him a black eye.
     “I’m not waiting another twenty years to marry Silvie,” he had said, furious. “So don’t you dare!” 
     Benedict had thought his brother’s reaction was slightly exaggerated; he’d be forty in only thirteen years, not twenty.
     This afternoon, though, Orlando seemed more resigned than angry. He gave a deep sigh.
“Never-mind. Silvana’s already planning to play matchmaker. She has a widowed duchess from the south picked out for you at the moment.”
     “I’m glad to know Silvana has my future planned,” Benedict said, fearing he was sincere in his sentiments. Putting his future in Silvana’s hands might not be a bad thing. She was a sensible one.   “However,” he went on, “for the time being, I have other plans. I heard rumors of a werewolf prowling around the woods of Griffin’s Peak—”
    “Heaven help us all! You’re so anxious for adventure you’re giving credence to the superstitions of fishwives, now. I suppose next you’ll be gallivanting off in search of the beautiful maiden held captive in a tower.”
     “A maiden in a tower?” Benedict asked, interested. He leaned forward. “I haven’t heard that one yet. It sounds promising.”
     “That one’s been around for years, Ben. Some peasants from Ivly swear that an old witch stole a beautiful young girl with golden hair and locked her in a tower.” He laughed and shook his head.
     But Benedict was serious. He leaned back in his chair. “I might look into that one.”
     “Yes. Amusing.”
     “No, in truth.” Benedict sprang up from his chair and grabbed his cloak. “Ivly, you said? I think I’ll go. Much more interesting than a German werewolf. And much closer.”
     “Ben, you cannot be serious! It’s absurd!” He rolled his eyes. “Never-mind. I told you that about the “vampire” of Venice, and you went there anyway.”
     “What you fail to realize, Orlando, is that no matter how seemingly ridiculous a tale is, there is almost always a grain of truth in it. There was no vampire, but there was a sadistic—bloodthirsty, if you will— murderer on the loose. And if I hadn’t brought the man to justice, he might be out there still.” He shrugged into his cloak. “Now, do you care to come?” He said it lightly, but he felt a pounding in his chest, the same urge that always prodded him when the right quest had fallen into his lap. It would take him only moments to prepare, and Ivly was but a day’s ride from the palace.
     “No thank you. But Ben—” Orlando’s voice stopped his brother at the door. “If there really is a maiden, do us all a favor and marry the girl!”
     Ben laughed. “You know how tales get distorted. I’m willing to bet the maiden locked in that tower is bald, losing her teeth, and all of sixty-five. With a wart on her nose for good measure!”
     Orlando’s reluctant laughter followed him down the hall.

Read the rest of With Blossoms Gold in ONCE.

     You can check out excerpts from the other stories on each respective authors' blogs by clicking on the links below. Have fun! :D

and remember to find Once here on Amazon, or add it to your Goodreads list! 

Monday, November 7, 2016

My Favorite Elements to Write (And Read)

    Oh's another post I wrote months and months ago but never published because I just kept tweaking it and tweaking it into oblivion (as you can tell by the links to super-old posts!). Anyway, it's about time this has seen the light of day.

      I have a theory.

     My theory is that all writers have a subtle (or at times not-so-subtle) theme, message, or motif that somehow winds its way into every book they write. I don't even think it's intentional—I think it's that little "something,” that little piece of us—that slips into each book and links them together just as much as our “voice” or style of writing does.

     If I was to name one principle that forms in the background of my stories, I believe it would be that of truth (surprise, surprise ;). This is more prominent in some of my stories than in others, but it’s always there, even if it’s only in my motivation for writing the story in the first place. Sometimes it manifests itself in the actual events in the novel—such as a revelation about an event or a character (such as in Hidden Pearls)—or most often, it’s simply that the story as a whole is used to illuminate a certain truth I see in life (as in For Elise).

     But there are other, seemingly less important or consequential things that also link my stories together. Some elements are just fun for me to write, or they come into my writing naturally without me realizing it. There are certain things I’m drawn to. So, inspired by Christine’s post and this writing prompt, I thought I’d talk about my favorite elements and storytelling devices that always end up worming their way into my plots—with or without me realizing it. In addition, they are also my favorite things to find in stories I'm reading or watching.

Hidden Identities.

     Pretty much every one of my stories to date has this. (which, strangely enough, I didn’t notice until recently). Whether it’s people who are not who they seem, characters hiding their past or in disguise, or even people who are cursed (like the beast in The Wulver's Rose), there’s always one character with some sort of secret or hidden identity.


     Friendship often gets the short shaft next to romance these days, to the point where most people don’t seem to know what to do with the real thing when they see it and so claim that such relationships must be in some way “romantic.” I never set out with some grand plan to validate friendship, but close relationships between friends and siblings—and yes, even friendship between couples that later turn romantic—always end up playing a large part of my stories.


     Speaking of friendship, I have a huge weakness for reading/writing about large groups of people thrown together and forced to rely on each other. The Avengers, The Fellowship of the Ring—people with vastly different backgrounds, ethnicities, and motivations who have to work together for a common goal will always appeal to me. This hasn’t played a large role in my stories that have been published as of now, but most of my unfinished science fiction and fantasy works play with this idea quite a bit. Misfit groups are the tops.


     People willing to give up everything, even their very lives, for the people they love will always move me. In fact, I haven’t written as much on this topic as I’d like because it is a little intimidating to me, since I want it done right.


     Probably six times out of ten, I find that the villains are always easier for me to write about than the heroes, probably because I can really exploit their flaws. I love a good, complex villain and I love writing their scenes. Also, I write a lot of female villains for some reason. Not intentionally, but it is something that I’ve noticed.


     I feel like duty has become a bit of a bad word in today's society. We're told we should do what's best for us, even if it means shirking our responsibilities. As a Christian, I don't think our goal in life is to search for our own happiness--we are to glorify God. And sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) that means putting aside our own desires so that we can pursue His will. Coming to terms with one's duty (and in a way, going back to the sacrifice theme) whether it's to family, country, or God, also tends to wind its way into my stories. 

First Person Point of View

     This is not what I do most often, or even what I like to read the most. But doggone it, I find that it’s a lot easier and more natural for me to write in first person. Most of my stories are in third person, and they have to be due to multiple POVs and storytelling needs. (And there’s nothing I hate more than reading a first-person narrative that should have been third person). But first person is easier for me to write, and I do think it’s beautiful when done well (Jane Eyre, for instance, would not be the same without it). In any case, at least portions of my stories often end up being told in first person.


     I don’t even know how, but half of my stories have at least one dancing scene, and many times more than one. Balls are just great environments for catastrophes, major revelations, and even action scenes. Don’t ask me why. (Then again, because I do English country dancing and actually attend a couple of balls a year, it might just be art imitating life. Or life imitating art, too, now that I think of it. I've been writing about it longer than I've been doing it).

Gloomy, dark settings....or bright and airy ones

     There is no in-between with me. I blame this one on the fact that two of my favorite books are The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Anne of Green Gables. My stories are usually inspired by either the smoky, darkly elegant aspects of Victorian London, or they are filled with the bright and chipper atmosphere of the Edwardian countryside. It's Agatha Christie versus Jane Austen; L.M. Montgomery against Edgar Allan Poe. This tends to spill over into my reading preferences, too.

Strong Family Relationships

     Despite my mom's complaints that I'm a mother-killer (blame it on the Disney movies, Mom!) I do like writing strong relationships between families. Actually, I'm not sure if it's an issue of "liking" to write about it--I'm simply blessed with a close-knit family, so such relationships just seem to naturally appear in my writing. Family dynamics (including not-so-happy family relationships) tend to be an important part of my stories. 

What are your favorite things to read and write about?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Introducing "Once"

     After a few months of sitting on this exciting and fabulous secret, I'm now pleased to announce my contribution to a new project: a collection of historically-inspired fairy tale retellings, all done by six indie authors! My story, With Blossoms Gold, is included in the collection along with some wonderful, imaginative other retellings set everywhere from World War II Poland to 1920s New Zealand.

     But I'm sure what you all want to see is the it is:

Six fairytales you thought you knew, set against a tapestry of historical backgrounds.

A lonely girl plots revenge in the shadow of a mountain. A stolen princess fumbles a century backward. A dwarfish man crafts brilliant automatons. A Polish Jew strikes matches against the Nazis. A dead girl haunts a crystal lake. A terrified princess searches a labyrinth. A rich collection of six historically inspired retellings, Once is a new generation of fairytales for those who thought they'd heard the tales in all their forms.

Featuring the novellas of Elisabeth Grace Foley, Rachel Heffington, J Grace Pennington, Emily Ann Putzke, Suzannah Rowntree, and Hayden Wand.

     My own story, With Blossoms Gold, is the story of Rapunzel set in Renaissance Italy. It was inspired by one thought: what if Rapunzel didn't want to leave the tower? This (non-magical) retelling of the Grimm's fairy tale has a tiny pinch of the Italian story Petrosinella in it as well. Throw in some battles, a dash of humor, and some really creepy catacombs, and hopefully you've got a traditional fairy tale with just enough added twists to keep you on your toes. You can take a peek at my pinterest inspiration board for With Blossoms Gold here.

     Want to hear about everyone else's tales? You can jump to their blogs below to hear more about their stories:

     Also, feel free to get the word out! You can tweet, facebook, tumblr, pin, and whatever else is out there these days (using the hashtag #OnceFairytales). Here are some blog buttons and photos:

     I'm so excited about this project, and I can't wait to share each of these marvelous adventures with you all. Having read each of the stories,  I can honestly say that they're well-written, fabulous retellings. We've got a mystery, a western, a dash of steampunk, and even a bit of time-travel in these stories, so there's a little something for everyone. 

     Interested in reviewing an ebook ARC copy? Email cinderella19395[at]gmail[dot]com for more information. Until then, spread the word :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Battling The Modern Condescension

     Today I am going to talk about my greatest pet peeve as a historical fiction writer, a history major, and a reader.

     I recently was reading a comment on someone's Goodreads review where a reader was admitting that she didn't usually like reading historical fiction novels because she thought they were too depressing. I found that odd. I've read many depressing historical fiction books...but I've read plenty of comedic, romantic, and adventurous ones as well. It all depends on the plotline and subgenre.

     However, this attitude plays into a phenomenon I've seen in far too many books that tackle historical characters and events. It's a bit of a two part problem, so I'll do my best to explain.

The Historical Pity Party


The Unaccountably Modern Viewpoint

     Both stem from a somewhat arrogant and spoiled view of ourselves: that people of history who lacked modern conveniences, rights, or scientific knowledge couldn't possibly ever be as happy as people are now. Every woman trapped in petticoats and unable to vote must have been miserable; every man who didn't know that the earth traveled 'round the sun was lost in an abyss of ignorance that prevented him from true happiness.

     That's not to say that certain periods or events in history are not tragic. Any book centering on something such as the Holocaust, for example, will be serious and even graphic in its portrayal of human suffering. But there is a difference between a true account of an actual, historical tragedy and portraying a middle-class Victorian heroine through the lens of a 21st century writer who can't help but pity every part of her life in the 19th century simply because it was a part of the 19th century. Things were hard back then- of course they were. And I don't mean to view the past with rose-colored glasses and deny its moral and social problems. But every generation views itself as more advanced than those that came before it; many of these people we are pitying thought they had it so much better than those before them. An Edwardian Mamma wasn't mourning her lack of a computer because it never even crossed her mind that something like that even existed. She was probably too busy looking at her new vacuum cleaner and thanking heaven she had it so much easier than her grandmother. (Which is why I'm annoyed when people say, "Oh, I could never have lived in [insert time period]- I'd never survive without air conditioning/television /automobiles/pop music." Yes, you would have because you wouldn't have known anything different.) In a hundred years, I'm sure there will be technology that I've never dreamed of. Should these citizens of the future pity me or think I am incapable of a satisfied, joyful life because I don't have access to these things?

Obviously, anyone living in the twenty-first century must have been miserable and primitive- I mean, they didn't even have a cure for cancer yet! And no jetpacks. tsk, tsk, tsk.

     A hundred years from now, I don't want someone pitying me because I wasn't aware of or didn't have access to their "modern" conveniences. We live in a fallen world where there will always be problems, and those problems are real- I'm not making light of them. But we are not somehow "better" than those who lived in the past. And it does not do to disparage or disdain those in history, as if they were not as smart (or moral) as we are now. You, reader, only have your superior scientific knowledge because someone before you figured it out. You are not better because you own a dishwasher and a car and an ipod- did you invent those things? I didn't think so. You find the very idea of slavery morally deplorable? I don't blame you. But can you honestly say you'd think the same if you were living back in Ancient Rome when it was considered simply a way of life?

Not that I'm not thankful for what I have in this year of our Lord 2016.

     I like my laptop and my Avengers movies and my itunes account filled with NEEDTOBREATHE songs. I'm thankful for modern medicine and God bless the man who invented air conditioning.

And I sure am glad computers don't look like this anymore
      So what's my problem? When I read a piece of historical fiction, more times than not I'm confronted with characters who seem almost resentful that they do, indeed, live in the past. It's a resentment that surpasses the universal and timeless human theme of discontentment with one's circumstances to a pointed discontentment with their personal timeline. It doesn't make any sense, because characters shouldn't have any sense that they are living in the past. To them, it's the present, with the future just around the corner. And one thing I've always wondered about the authors of such novels: what's the point of writing historical fiction if you're going to make your characters hate it so much? I suppose what I hate so much is the victimization of such characters (and real people of history): when they are made to be the objects of pity by a more "enlightened" people.

     The thing is, there's so much good in history in addition to the bad. There's heroism and humor just as much as there is villainy and sorrow. Honestly, I think we have a lot to learn from the past- not just from humanity's mistakes, but from their triumphs, too. There's a lot our ancestors got right, and half the time I find myself looking at the ridiculous "new" statements about God and the Bible people make today or roll my eyes at certain political movements and think, Good grief. We went over how flawed this idea was back in the missed the boat on that one, guys. 

     Another thing I've noticed is that often historical characters will have unaccountable modern knowledge that smacks of an author who just couldn't let her characters actually believe in period-correct ideologies, or even scientific "facts." Let's face it: Not many historical heroes and heroines actually think bloodletting or corsets are good ideas, because they are both frowned upon today. And if the characters do believe these things, the story must show how deadly they are.  (Ah, corset horror stories, which tend to make historical reenactors and those who've worn corsets livid, from what I understand. Also, here I insert kudos to Julie Klassen for The Apothecary's Daughter, the first modern novel I read that kept period-correct medical practices that were approved of by the main characters, even if the reader knew they were wrong). Many historical protagonists are stripped clean of politically incorrect ideas common to the time period they are living in, as if they somehow entered into the world with a postmodern, 21st century view of religion and politics right off the bat. Granted, there are some "common" historical ideas that really are hard to stomach and would make for a pretty difficult hero to like. However, I've seen many authors go beyond a simple neglecting of problematic ideology in their character to a direct proclamation of historically inaccurate statements, often used to make the more conventional (and historically correct) characters look foolish or unlikable. (I'd say the biggest culprits here are male characters who promote traditional roles for women and are made to look like domineering abusers who obviously only believe such things because they want to oppress and dominate women (or are ignorant and backwards). It's not like they could ever have some valid concerns or a Biblical basis for their ideas.)

     Sometimes this isn't intentional; sometimes it's simply ignorance (I'm totally guilty of this one, too, I'm afraid). Just as being an American can make me blind to Americanisms when I'm writing fiction set somewhere else, the same can happen in unintentionally giving characters modern views. It's a forgivable error, but a horribly common one. So many times we (yes, myself included!) take so many things for granted that we automatically insert them in novels, not even thinking that such an idea, turn of phrase, or mannerism is "modern" or time-specific. Yet novels are so much more encompassing and rich if authors can really delve deep into the philosophy, manners, and social constructs of the time period they're exploring. If you want to write historical fiction, I recommend reading books written and published during the era you're writing about. It's been one of the most helpful things I've ever found in my writing journey, and it's pretty darn fun, too. I understand that depending upon the time period and location of your story that this can be near impossible, but it is a wonderful resource if it's available. It can help you slip into the lingo, speech patterns, and nuances of the time that research from non-fiction can't always accomplish. It can also give you wonderful insight into the attitudes that prevailed during the time as well. The social and emotional climates of certain time periods are worth looking into. (contrast, for example, the optimism and patriotism of the "gay 90s" with the frenzied, desperate glamour of the "roaring 20s" just thirty years later. I love both time periods, but they are handled much differently in my writing.) post is over. I feel like all of my writing-related posts can get a little annoyed and ranty, and for that I apologize. When it comes to blog posts and journal entries, I'm a bit of an "angry writer": I write to let out steam, which means I'm largely silent when I'm happy and very vocal when I'm not. Probably not a good trait to have. Personally, I'm just tired of reading historical fiction that make historical characters look ignorant, foolish, or evil because of the time they live in, or where characters are only likable and lauded if they are ahead of the times or espouse "progressive" views. Is this a problem any of you historical fiction readers have noticed? Or have I just been over-exposed to some very annoying books?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Fairy Tale Retellings + Snippets

     I briefly mentioned at the beginning of this summer one of the fairy tale retellings I'm working on. What I didn't expect was for another fairy tale retelling to re-emerge from my drafts pile and take precedence. Strangely enough (and completely unintentional on my part) both of these stories have connections to Italy. One is set in a fictional Italian state during the Renaissance, and the other involves the Italian mafia in 1920s New York.

     I don't usually post a lot of snippets, mostly from paranoia. (1, that someone will steal my work and 2, that I'll end up drastically changing the said snippet in the final story and wishing I'd never posted it.) However, I become more open to sharing some of my work the closer it becomes to being finished...and plus, I'm doing the #WIPjoy hashtag thingy as well which means I'm sharing more about my current retelling, With Blossoms Gold. (I still don't really understand twitter, guys. But if you don't mind my clumsy efforts, you can always follow me @Hayden_Wand. If that's not a shameless plug, I don't know what is.) Can you guess which fairy tale WBG is? I doubt its origins should be too difficult to decipher....

     The man cleared his throat. “I’m afraid there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding. I was told that a beautiful maiden was held captive in this tower against her will. Though I won’t deny that you are a beautiful maiden—”
     Nella’s frown deepened.
     “—apparently I was misinformed about the captivity. Anyway,” his eyes flickered to the vase, “I see you are quite able to take care of yourself, so it has been nice meeting you and I will be on my way.” He backed out of the room. - WITH BLOSSOMS GOLD

     He wondered if all men on the verge of death felt such regret. Did they all see their lives so clearly, their faults magnified by the mortality of their existence? -WITH BLOSSOMS GOLD

     "...I simply can’t move, and the world crushes me and I can’t do it. It’s hopeless. I can’t even name my fear. I know it’s unreasonable. But it’s always there.” -WITH BLOSSOMS GOLD

The firelight from her torch flickered against the skulls, casting ominous shadows upon the damp floor. -WITH BLOSSOMS GOLD

     “Cold?” the voice asked.
     She turned her head in the direction of the voice. Her eyes were beginning to adjust to the dark now, and she could make out the dim figure of the hobo. His back was leaning against a crate and he had his knees pulled up to his chest.  He clenched an unlit pipe between his teeth. -JANUARY SNOW

“Ah, now that was a voice,” Granny Euphemia sighed. “Nothing like the trash they sing now. Bunch of tuneless babble.”
“Not all of it is so very bad,” January couldn’t help but say, even at the risk of upsetting this relic of the Victorian age.
“Mebbe, mebbe,” Granny conceded. “But I won’t say it’s so very good, either.” -JANUARY SNOW

all pictures from pinterest

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Day the Books Got Wet

     Writing can be exhausting. I'm currently working on a somewhat-secret project (that actually has a deadline looming) and it's been one of the most emotionally taxing writing experiences I've had thus far, simply due to the plot and some scenes where I had to dredge up actual emotions out of myself. Not that I haven't done that before; this instance is just a little more grueling.The other day I had a to write a rousing military battle speech, and being that I'm not Shakespeare, Henry V, or Winston Churchill, that meant that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

Me, complaining: "How do you even write a battle speech?"
11-year-old brother, dramatically: "Today will no longer be known as an American holiday, but a day when the world..."*
14-year-old brother, in a Mulan-fake-man voice: "I see you have a sword. I do too. They're very manly and tough."

     I'm so thankful I have my brothers to help me in this matter. I mainly just slammed my head on my desk repeating, "We few, we happy few....Cry God for Harry, England, and St. George!"

     Unfortunately, this speech does not work very well when you're writing something set in Italy. Also, there's the small matter of plagiarism, which is an action frowned upon in most societies.

     Anyway, to give myself a little break, I thought, what can I write about that's a little more uplifting? WHAT ABOUT THE MOST EXCITING DAY OF MY LIFE? (No, not the time I saw the Broadway tour of Beauty and the Beast. You're thinking of the other most exciting day of my life.) I don't really talk much about my personal life here-and believe me, that's probably not going to change anytime soon-but every once in awhile, amusing and interesting things happen to me. And this is one instance that I don't think I've ever written about.

     It all began the summer of 2009- I think. It might have been 2010. My journals of this time are currently packed in a storage unit, so I'm telling this one from memory. Anyway, roughly about this time I was volunteering at my local library's summer program for the kids. (I can see you all raising an eyebrow now- the most exciting day of her life? And it's in a library? I'm not James Bond, people. This is as exciting as my life gets.)

     I've always been interested in becoming a librarian, so this was a dream come true for me. The days that I worked, my mornings were usually spent signing kids in for the special programs, and then getting to sit in the back and watch them, too. Even at the ripe old age of fifteen, I certainly was not averse to children's entertainment. Afterwards, all of the volunteers helped back in the children's area of the library, where we shelved books and other librarian-ish things. It was wonderful.

     Now, where this particular library is located is not known as being one of the *best* places in South Carolina. Colleton County is kind of a rural, troubled area. I mean, our main claim to fame is that it's where the guy who played young Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace got arrested for reckless driving. South Carolina is a beautiful place, though, and the actual library is really very nice and historic. I was sad when we moved and I had to leave it.

     It was late in the summer. The children's program for the day had ended, and some of the volunteers had gone home. There were not many people in the library at all, and with the rain pouring down outside (which I found comforting) as I shelved books, it was a pretty lazy late afternoon.

     Now, as I mentioned, this library is rather old, and there were understandably a couple of small leaks. The ceiling was kind of your basic commercial/government type of ceiling, where it's divided into squares, a bit like this:

     The children's area is also divided: there is a section with full-height shelves for chapter books and middle grade fiction, and lower, waist-high shelves for all of the kids' picture books and early readers.

     I was minding my own business, filling in information on the computer, I believe, when suddenly, an entire square ceiling tile fell, right in the middle of the picture book section. Someone dragged a trash can over to collect the water, and I'm sure we were all thinking, wow, that was really bad. Good thing we had something to collect all that water.

ha. haha.

     I turned to continue my typing, when a large thud sounded behind me. I turned to see another ceiling tile on the floor as another one dropped from the ceiling and fell down in front of me. Someone screamed, "save the books!" Another tile fell, and everyone in the library -employees, volunteers, the few random patrons that had been in the building at the off-time of day- ran into the pouring water to grab handfuls of books from the shelves as water poured down around us. It was not a drizzle; it was a thunderstorm. And the water was coming into the building as rapidly as if there hadn't been any ceiling at all- the degree of wetness we experienced was along the lines of being underneath a shower spigot. On top of this, tiles were still falling, and had to be dodged as we sprinted under the danger zone to grab the books. A young boy who'd been in the library with his family was shrieking in delight the entire time. "This is the best library trip ever!" he yelled, a stack of picture books in his arms.

     And, for all my love of was fun. I had taken off my flipflops and was running, drenched and gleeful like a five-year-old, in and out of the water as I grabbed books from the shelves and piled them in a dry corner of the room. There was lots of laughing and screaming. The water had begun pooling on the carpet, and we had to move up the piles of all of the books so that the small flood wouldn't reach them.

     All in all, I would say about six or so of the tiles fell in, and we pretty much evacuated every book in the little kids' section. Amazingly enough, only a few books were damaged enough to be completely discarded. The story even made the local paper. (although they interviewed the volunteers the one day I wasn't there. I am still a little bitter about this.)

     But it was not fun the next day. The library was closed, and we had to come in and sort the hundreds of books we'd dumped haphazardly off of the shelves. We did this in a back room while someone came in to fix the water damage and the ceiling. It took a few days for everything to go back to normal, but it was a truly unexpected experience. And it also gives me a good story to tell anytime someone says that the library is boring.

     Now my break is over and it's once more unto the breach, dear friends. The game is afoot.

* I feel like my mother would want you to know that my 11-year-old brother has not seen Independence Day in its full and complete form, but an age-appropriate edit on our clearplay. End of disclaimer.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Reviewer Confessions

     I have about ten very long and involved posts in my Microsoft Word "blogpost" folder, most of which have been languishing in there for years. One of these is this post, which I've finally polished up enough for public consumption.

     I've been reviewing books online since I was sixteen years old, and honestly, sometimes I wonder if I've learned anything in the past six years. Sometimes I feel just as conflicted and confused about proper procedure and reviewer etiquette as I did when I first began. When I started out, I wanted to be the type of reviewer that I, as a reader, appreciated. At the time, I wasn't yet getting books straight from the publishers for review purposes, and buying books was a bit of a luxury, usually saved for Christmases and birthdays. That meant if there was a book I was interested in, I read four or five reviews (at least) before committing to buying it.

As a teenage reader, I mainly wanted to know:

1) If the reviewer enjoyed the book (duh)
2) If the plot was actually like the book blurb described
3) whether or not the book had content I might find objectionable or offensive
4) whether or not it was well written in general

     I didn't like reviews that went too deep into the book or summarized it, but I did like detailed reviews that labeled the reader's likes or dislikes with it. Often, even "bad" reviews could convince me to read a particular novel, because I knew that everything that the reviewer said they disliked either wasn't a big deal to me, or actually made me want to read it more because of differing tastes. As I said, I certainly didn't have anything against reviewers who didn't mention anything about the moral or Christian level of content, but I really did appreciate a heads up from reviewers who thought a certain book wasn't clean enough for a "Christian fiction" label. As a teenager (and honestly, still as a twenty-something) I especially didn't want to run unexpectedly into sex scenes or obscene swearing, which meant that I was always trying to find good Christian reviews of mainstream titles.

     However, as I became involved more in the reviewing world, I found out that there are some who believe that reviewers should only focus on the actual writing of books, not on whether or not you find the content offensive. I find this slightly ridiculous: how a writer portrays/handles these topics is an aspect of their writing as a whole. And yes, maybe it is personal preference in regards to the reviewer, but so is nearly everything about a book, including its writing style and plot. In such reviews, I freely begin with a disclaimer explaining why I didn’t like the book so that others can disregard my opinion if they wish. Honestly, this might actually make other people want to read it. As I said, I know that sometimes I read one-star reviews and discover that the very reason the reader didn’t like it would be the very reason I would like it. (Also, talk about morality and content is not something specific to Christian reviewers; secular ones do it all the time—we just tend to be offended/bothered by different things. There are literally secular websites dedicated to rating books on whether or not they are feministic enough.)

     I’ve also heard many writers telling other writers that when they write reviews, they should "be nice or don’t talk at all.” I believe this is because they want to develop an encouraging, supportive environment not based on competition or spite- which I completely understand. However, interestingly enough, I’ve also heard people say that reviews by anyone should do this. However, if anyone only ever wrote good things about books, what would be the use of reviews in the first place? As a writer, only good reviews seem great. As a reader, I think this is a terrible idea.

     Not to say that I always write reviews: I will refrain from writing one on occasion. Usually this is when book has a bunch of cliché problems that I’ve already complained about a hundred times before in other reviews of other books- or if I’ve already seen enough reviews on that particular novel complaining about the same things that I noticed. However, as a reviewer who is obligated to write about the books she receives from publishers, this isn’t always possible. And what’s more, if I have a problem about a book, I have to mention it. In fact, I’ve written reviews before, leaving out certain problems that bugged me because it made me feel unkind, and then went back and changed it because I felt like I was lying. When it comes to book reviews, I have compulsive honesty. This is why I avoid reviewing books from authors I actually know. If I’ve read the book and like it, I'll certainly praise it to the skies and help a fellow author out, but if I don’t, I do usually keep my mouth shut and don’t say anything at all. Good grief, even in books I honestly like I almost always mention at least one thing that could have been done better. But I never do reviews if I personally know the author and I disliked their book. I value these relationships more than writing a review, but I also refuse to lie. Therefore, I usually avoid accepting books specifically for review when I am acquainted with the author. (There are exceptions, as when I’m very familiar with the author’s work and know beforehand I’m going to enjoy it. But generally I bow out of book review tours in such cases) Thankfully, I've only been in this conundrum maybe once or twice (and not recently, either).

     The other times I don't write reviews are on books that I didn't read very much of. I will review Did-Not-Finish (DNF) books, but I usually try to make it at least 50% through for shorter books and 30% for longer ones. (This varies a little, depending on the book, but I do try to give books a legitimate chance). I feel like you can't totally judge a book by its first or second chapter, and so usually I'll only quit books that early if they're just too obscene or badly written for me to get through, and those don't usually warrant a review from me. Also, I do make a habit of reading the last chapter or two of DNF books, just to get a better picture of their overall message and cohesiveness before I write a review.

     Of course, since becoming more involved in the writing side of the internet, I have gotten less overtly critical in my reviews in general. My loyalties are somewhat conflicting: I have a duty to the reader, who I think should be informed, and yet also to the author, who I think should be encouraged and treated respectfully. However, over the past couple of years I do think I've learned a few guidelines that I try to follow when writing a book review.

1) I always try to find at least one praise-worthy thing in every book, even in those that I downright hated (luckily there haven’t been many that I’ve legitimately hated. And for those that I have, the authors are usually already dead and thus cannot be hurt or offended by my scathing review). I’m a lot better than I used to be; partly because I’ve gotten to know a lot of other writers, and as my own work has gotten published I realize how hard it is to release your book out into the world for the wolves to devour. I have gotten one-star reviews before, and they're not fun. I just remind myself that I've written one-star reviews as well, and I shouldn't dish it out if I can't take it.

2) You can dislike a book and still be kind in your review. There's no reason to be nasty. I've read some reviews where it seems the reviewer has a personal grudge or vendetta against the author. Usually other readers can spot that a mile away, and it's one of the quickest ways for me to disregard a review, because the reviewer just seems bitter or jealous, and more focused on tearing up the author than the actual book.

3) Never personally attack or make assumptions about the author. Focus on the novel and the writing, not the real person behind the book that you don't even know. See lesson #2. I know some authors who won’t even read reviews for their own books, which is probably smart. I wish I could be like that, but honestly I have too much curiosity. However, even if the author doesn't read their reviews, attacking the author personally is unkind. It's like an ad hominem argument in a debate. Don't do it.

     I mentioned that a lot of the time 3 or 4 star reviews are usually more informative than 5 star ones. But this is not to say that you can’t write 5-star reviews. I'll insert a writer plea here: please, please, please do.

     They are far from useless. As a writer, they are extremely encouraging and they encourage other readers to buy the book. If you honestly loved a book, PLEASE write a quick five-star review with all the things you loved. And I’m not just saying this from an author’s perspective: 5-stars are good from a reader’s viewpoint as well. I’m sure a lot more likely to read a book that consistently gets five stars than one that’s full of three, two, and even four-star reviews. An abundance of praise-filled reviews is a huge sign that this book is probably worth buying.

     But-and I'm speaking as both a reader and a writer now-If everyone only wrote five-star reviews, then they would be meaningless. Not all books are equal, and pretending they are out of misguided kindness doesn't help anybody. Hopefully by saying this I won't get completely attacked by fifty million 1-star reviews on my books (*hides*) but it is something that I truly believe. If you don't- that's totally fine. Some people just don't feel right writing reviews about books they didn't like. If it makes you uncomfortable and you aren't obligated to write a review for that book, then don't. It's okay. I'm not judging you or telling you that you have to. I'm just explaining, as a reviewer, why I occasionally write a 1 or 2 star review. I'm not trying to be mean; I'm trying to be honest. And that can be a tricky balance- one I know I have failed regularly at.
     I've gotten confused and frustrated about ratings and will probably never fully grasp their meanings for other people. (This book objectively seems like a four-star, yet I didn't enjoy it as much as this other book I only rated three stars! Or, this book has its problems, but I still really loved it. Is it worth five stars? Why did I rate this rather typical piece of Christian fiction the same as David Copperfield? THIS JUST SEEMS WRONG ON SOME LEVEL.) I've been both too critical and too lenient. Some of my reviews are just uninformative, and some simply too short or too long. I am far, far from a perfect book reviewer, just as I am far, far from a perfect novel writer. That being said...

      Reviewing books can be hard, but remember: writing a review is no where near as difficult as writing a novel. And authors at least deserve some respect for accomplishing that.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Interview with Kirsten Fichter

You'll remember a couple of posts ago I participated in a cover reveal for Kirsten Fichter's upcoming book, The Rose and the Balloon. Well, now I'm back with an author interview! I'm always a fan of fairy tale retellings, so I was pleased to get the chance to ask Kirsten about hers. (Also, I was totally supposed to post this yesterday, but my family is in the middle of moving and I completely forgot. Arrgh)

What was your inspiration for The Rose and the Balloon? 

The first spark of inspiration was Rooglewood's Beauty and the Beast contest. From there, it all barreled downhill as I plotted and began writing. I completed the tale in 18,000 words and with plenty of time left to enter it in the contest... and I forgot to send it in. And then I didn't remember about it until 5 or so days after the contest closed. Not exactly the happily ever after that most authors imagine, but that's what happened.

What do you think makes it different from other Beauty and the Beast retellings?
Most Beauty and the Beast retellings, I feel, are darker in tone, and focus a lot on the Beast's curse. I wanted something that still tasted like Beauty and the Beast, but was much lighter. Even though I was obstinate on writing it without magic (another thing that I think is not usual to most retellings), I didn't originally plan to put a slight steampunk twist into it. In the end, I completed an upside-down and backwards retelling that starts off with the Beast's mother destroying the roses of Beauty's father and then offering her son's hand in marriage to make up for it.

How long did it take you to write The Rose and the Balloon
Not very long. If I remember correctly, it only took about 2 or 3 months to finish the first draft, and then I spent another month or so later on editing and polishing and fleshing out scenes.

Which character do you relate to the most? 
Probably Janelle. She loves her father a lot, but she still is pretty stubborn. As a side story, my boyfriend read the tale and then asked me if I wrote it based on our relationship because I acted the same way to him that Janelle acts toward the Beast. That wasn't intentional, considering that I wrote The Rose and the Balloon a year and a half before I met my boyfriend, but I still think it's funny. Janelle is like me in too many ways. Particularly in the stubborn category.

What do you hope your readers take away most from reading the story?
The Rose and the Balloon isn't meant to be a deep story. I wrote it mainly for fun, and to also make a few jabs at the beloved Disney film. However, there are some deeper, hopefully thought-provoking themes woven throughout the story on the topics of selfishness and true love. While I don't believe this tale will change the world, I do hope that readers will find it a clean and upside-down Beauty and the Beast story that they can enjoy.

Thank you so much, Kirsten! I can't wait to get a chance to pick up The Rose and the Balloon. And for all you readers out there, the book is available on Amazon.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Wulver's Playlist

The Frozen Garden by David et Myrtille, via 500px:
picture from pinterest
     I enjoyed putting together a playlist for For Elise so much that I've decided to post my book playlists on here as a sort of regular thing. I had come up with a few songs for The Wulver's Rose back when I was first writing it, but it was nothing extensive and I've since lost the list. However, here are some songs I thought went pretty well with the story and setting, although as I was putting it together I realized that I could have just told you to listen to the Braveheart soundtrack and be done with it. (I don't care how historically inaccurate the movie is: that music is so good.) But I've also thrown in some traditional Scottish folk songs in here as well as some classical music from the 1700s. Enjoy!

Serenade, Op. 3 No. 5// Franz Joseph Haydn
My Love is Like a Red Red Rose//Rachel Sermanni
Farewell to Lochaber//The Rankin Family
The Elfin Knight//Kate Rusby
Betrayal & Desolation//James Horner
I Loved a Lass//Ewan MacColl
The Legend Spreads//James Horner
For the Love of a Princess//James Horner
Winter//Antonio Vivaldi
The Veil of Time//Bear McCreary
The Parting Glass// Peter Hollens
'Freedom'/The Execution Bannockburn//James Horner

You can listen to all of these on my youtube playlist.

(By the way- it's been a year since Five Enchanted Roses came out! How time does fly! Also, Five Magic Spindles is now available, and you can buy it here.)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Rose and the Balloon Cover Reveal


   It's been eons since I've participated in a cover reveal, and it's far past time this wrong was rectified! Today I'm pleased to share the cover for Kirsten Fichter's new book, The Rose and the Balloon. It's a Beauty and the Beast retelling (so you know I'll love it) with an interesting twist. So without further ado, here is the cover!

In a kingdom where fauna and flora are held in higher esteem than breakfast, Dmitri is a prince who yearns for change and plans it in a single daring act that will alter his life forever. However, when his demented mother accidentally causes the destruction of a prized garden of roses, Dmitri is horrified when she proposes his hand in marriage to make up for it. Not only will a wife hamper his glorious plans, he doesn't even want one.
                Janelle has spent her whole life on her father's rose farm, tending the roses and staying simple. But she really yearns for something greater than the flower beds. But now there's a wrench thrown in the works – the crazy Queen Maeva wants her to marry the prince, and all for ruining her father's beloved roses.

                This is Beauty and the Beast with a twist like you've never seen it before.


Kirsten Fichter is a twenty-something Christian writer who is trying to find the balance between being one of six kids, a church pianist, a college student, a movie buff, a disaster in the kitchen, and a writing INFP. If you know what the secret is to balancing all of that, she’d be grateful to hear from you. Otherwise, don’t contact her unless you want to send her homemade gingerbread. Or a new piano book. Or an autographed Charles Dickens novel. In the meantime, she’ll be somewhere under a maple tree – trying very hard to finish the seventeen and half other stories she unwisely started all at once.  

You can find Kirsten on blogspot, twitter, and Goodreads. And don't forget to add The Rose and the Balloon on Goodreads, or check out its Pinterest page!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Beautiful Books: For Elise

 :      So...I found this post lost in my drafts. I'm pretty sure it's a least nine months old, but hey: If you're curious about my story For Elise, then you might find this interesting. :)

And now, the months-old post...

     I've done the Beautiful People tag before, and now we have a new variation: Beautiful Books! I'm very excited about this, and though I believe Beautiful Books is really supposed to be for works-in-progress, since I *was* pretty vague with the synopsis of For Elise, I'd thought I'd use this opportunity to give you a few more details. But not too much...after all, it's not a very long story, and I don't want to give too much away.

1. How did you come up with the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?
I already went over this in a previous post, but for the short version of the story, the idea for this tale hit me upside the head while I was reading a bit of Edgar Allan Poe. (At the original time of writing this post, I'd come up with the story less than a month before. All in all, it took me about four months from the first spark of Elise's idea to its publication- by far the shortest span of time for anything I've ever written.)

2. Why are you excited to write this novel?
I was excited because it was nothing like I'd done before--and the words were flowing out faster than I could manage. That's such a rare, wonderful feeling.

3. What is your novel about, and what is the title?
The title is For Elise, and it's about a young author who gets a little more than he bargained for when he buys a so-called "haunted" house.

4. Sum up your characters in one word each. (Feel free to add pictures!)
 : Ah, my "author." Melodramatic would probably be a good way to describe him. While I was writing, I knew his personality so well, but I never actually thought much about what he looked like. His appearance is never described, and in a way I'm glad, because the reader can imagine him anyway they like. However, I did find this picture awhile ago by accident, and it does remind me of him.

5. Which character(s) do you think will be your favourite to write? Tell us about them! Oh, he was definitely my favorite, because he's oddly like me in some respects...and I might use him at times to subtly (or not so subtly?) make fun of myself.

6. What is your protagonist’s goal, and what stands in the way? My protagonist's goal is to become a famous, tragically misunderstood writer whose work is taught in college classes for years to come. No, he's not ambitious or arrogant at all.

What stands in his way? Writer's block...and something else...*scurries back into the shadows with my secrets*

7. Where is your novel set? (Show us pictures if you have them!) Modern day, in a lovely old Victorian-era mansion that's seen a bit of decay over the years- although he does fix it up somewhat.

Beautiful white home with gothic architectural details. Love the lancet windows!: 8. What is the most important relationship your character has? You'll have to read the story to find that out...

9. How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel? Again, not telling.

10. What themes are in your book? How do you want your readers to feel when the story is over? Hmmm. It's funny that I know what I want the readers to feel, but I can't describe it. (Maybe I'm not as talented a writer as I think I am, haha) But I have had people tell me that it's a story that's made them laugh and cry, so if that happens to my readers, I shall be satisfied. In fact, that idea of the juxtaposition of sorrow and joy in life is perhaps the most prominent theme in the story itself.

NaNoWriMo BONUS: Tell us your 3 best pieces of advice for others trying to write a book in a month. Don't eat, sleep, or see people, Just lock yourself in your room and refuse to emerge until the work is done.

Okay, maybe that's not the best advice...

(Anyway, For Elise is now published. You can buy it here)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

On Being a Christian Writer

     he's not safe, but he is good.:

      I've long wanted to write on this subject, but I've both been putting it off and have been too busy to give this topic justice. However, this article from Bethany House Publishers came across my twitter account recently, and I thought it made some good points, especially from a publishing house that specializes in Christian fiction (a genre which can in many cases be truly polarizing).

     For example, some people get annoyed when there's too much Christian content in a novel, or erroneously believe that if a book includes discussion of actual theological principles/ideas it's not as high an artistic art form as a book that does it in a more subtle or disguised way. At the same time, there are people who define "Christian fiction" by their own terms and therefore make a checklist of everything they think needs to be in such a novel. (example: conversion scene + undisguised Christian message = only acceptable type of novel).

     First off, I think there is one commonality that should be in every book written by a Christian: it should be a good book, done to the utmost of the author's ability. There is no room in the literary world, Christian or not, for less than our best. We all have different standards and preferences when it comes to what makes a "good" book, but the desire and hard work needed to make that goal happen should be a part of every Christian writer's make-up. When I think of the great scientists, artists, and writers of centuries past, I see an overwhelming Judeo-Christian worldview and presence. Unfortunately, in our current day and age, Christian art has a stigma of being "cutesy,""cheesy," or "unrealistic." What's worse is that in many cases, this accusation is merited. How far we have fallen from our heritage of beautiful, thought-provoking Christian art! It's left a cultural vacuum space that's been filled with talented but lost artists who have wonderful storytelling abilities but a sadly misguided and dangerous view of the world and morality. It's not glorifying to God when we write a well-written but immoral piece of fiction. However, I think it no more glorifying to Him when we slap together a shoddily plotted Christian novel that lacks excellence.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men... Colossians 3:23
     To be upfront about my own preferences, I don't like books with obscene language or sex scenes. And a book doesn't have to include those things to be "good" or to be bought by the public. I don't want to read/see graphic portrayals of these things, but I do not mind if characters make ungodly decisions. However, I do expect consequences to these decisions. I do expect the overall message and theme of the book to condemn unwise, ungodly behavior and shady morality. And while even Christian characters should be imperfect, these flaws should not overwhelm them. Too many a book I have read where the Christian character behaves contrarily to Biblical principles and is made to look, not like a sympathetic human, but a hypocrite. (or even worse, I find that these worldly behaviors are considered normal and "okay" even by Christians). Yes, followers of Christ make mistakes. But Christ also lives in us, and finishes the work He has started in us. We were meant to overcome, not wallow, in our sin.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
     On the flip side, there is a shallowness to many works of Christian fiction. It's not always that these books don't try to delve into deeper, more significant and heartbreaking truths at times, but there is a decided lack of "messiness." There is a lot of bow-tying and sunshine. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy a heavy dose of sunshine on occasion, and there's a time for it. And I do like things to be resolved. But relying on cliched and overused themes and resolutions is not a good way to do that, and neither is relying on a world-friendly, watered-down form of Christianity. That's what I find to be the main culprit. In fact, this lesser form of our faith is what makes many of these stories so shallow in the first place: they are relying on something that doesn't ring of truth, but feel-good notions. It's a sad day indeed when a book or movie from a secular source gives me more to ponder than those from a Christian one. And this experience is not particularly uncommon.

     I'm not here to tell you that one type of book is somehow better or more godly than another type of book. I simply want to implore you to examine why you are writing what you are: is it because it is a story that has been entrusted to you to tell and you truly believe that, with God's leading, this is the best way for you to do it? Or are you writing to please non-Christian (or Christian) publishers/readers or to fit in with what's "hot" in the current market? There's nothing wrong with getting advice from trusted sources or listening to others' opinions. But are you compromising morality to be popular?
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern  what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
      I believe, as a Christian writer, our work should be bathed in prayer and Biblical principles. If we are in line with God's will, I don't think we need to keep some sort of checklist or shove in a specific faith message because we feel like we "have" to. We should focus less on writing "Christian fiction" and more on being a Christian writer. Even if I write a story where God isn't mentioned once, my worldview is going to come shining through in some way. I can't help it. And if I do write a story that isn't overtly "Christian" it does not mean that I am ashamed or somehow hiding my beliefs. On the contrary! Would we accuse the same of a Christian artist who paints a beautiful landscape simply because it lacks a Bible character or scene within it? A landscape can show God's grand majesty and beauty just as much as a scene from the book of Judges or Revelation. There is so much variety in the world and in what is right and appropriate to write about that we should have no trouble in this area. As I've said before, different stories have different needs, and sometimes a stronger or more poignant Christian message can be expressed in a way that's not quite so obvious.

     However, I also want to take the time to say that's it's also perfectly all right to write a book about Christian characters living out their lives, who talk about God and follow His Word. This is most often what we think of when we hear the words "Christian fiction." And sometimes, I do want to read a book like that. Sometimes I write books like that. And in many ways, it's a tricky thing because it's so easy to do badly. Some accuse these types of books of being "propaganda" or "biased." This is true, but every book is written by a biased, flawed individual with ideas about morality, ethics, human interaction, and everything else in life. There is no magically neutral novel. Any book written by a Christian will have an underlying presence of the author's worldview in the same way that a book by an atheist author or a Muslim author or an agnostic writer will. So it's borderline paranoid and ridiculous for a reader to get offended that a novel (which is usually clearly labeled "Christian fiction" in the first place) actually has a Christian agenda. Believe it or not, some Christian readers actually like to read stories about other Christians. Imagine that.

     In fact, despite their lower status on the literary totem pole, these books are dearly needed, especially because they can be encouraging to fellow Christians. As a middle schooler and young high schooler, YA books (even Christian ones) drove me absolutely nuts because I couldn't relate to or be inspired by the characters. They were always focused on social ("youth group") Christianity and extremely shallow and/or basic Christian principles. (Oh, what I wouldn't have done to find a novel about a teenage girl that didn't revolve around boys and dating or being annoyed with "strict" parents) People say we need to write books about the junk kids go through in today's R-rated society. But guess what: we also need books about kids and adults who make good choices and have good family lives because they present an example for us to be inspired by. Not that everything around them should be perfect and rosy all the time, because then you wouldn't have much of a story. But we need heroes worth rooting for. We need the Frodos and Sams who will trek through Mordor for the sake of the greater good; we need the Edmund Pevensies who make tragic mistakes but go on to live redeemed, valiant lives. Those stories are powerful.

     Why? Because they contain Truth.

     That's what I think all good stories do, after all. In a world where "what's right for you" is king, and single answers are deemed narrow-minded, this can be difficult to find. We're drawn to the stories that proclaim truths we share, because those stories seem real. That's why some non-believers find even the best of Christian fiction unrealistic- not because the novel itself is flawed, but because they don't see how it can be true, since it doesn't fit into their worldview. But it's also why some non-Christians also find themselves devouring books by Christian authors. Because when we recognize truth in any type of art or fiction, it draws us. It resonates with us. We understand it.

My ultimate goal as a writer is to express truth.

     Truth in imaginative ways. Truth in fun ways, terrifying ways, awesome ways. Truth might seem boring to some, but I promise you, it's not. Biblical truth is powerful, and I think it's what sets apart great stories from the good ones.

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