Friday, November 8, 2013

Writing Remnants: Style Epiphany

Many of you reading this are probably wondering why it has taken me so long to post anything.  Well, let me tell you... I've been blogging plenty.  Or at least I've been working on many different posts, but haven't finished them.  They all have good concepts mind; my problem is that I want them all to really mean something.  Words are so important, after all, and I want my words to make an impact... not to just float around in cyber space where a few people might read them in their spare time but won't really glean anything from them.  So I've been polishing these posts, refining them, working them over as a jeweler might cut and polish a precious stone to bring out its shine and perfection.

But tonight, I was struck with something so profound to my writings that I simply had to share it.

Recently I have immersed myself in two separate books -- one, a how-to book on writing titled "Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: How to Create Out-of-This-World Novels and short stories" and joint-written by Orson Scott Card, Phillip Athans, and Jay Lake (and the editors of Writers Digest), and the other is "Ender's Game" written by Orson Scott Card.

Now, the entire first part of the writing how-to book was written by Orson Scott Card and I found myself absolutely devouring his advise.  One thing that stuck the most had to do with the different types of stories, or what he called "The MICE Quotient".  To Paraphrase Mr. Card's explanation, there are four major elements which are present in every story: Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event.  However, while all of these elements may be present in a story, usually one dominates over the others.

With this in mind, I started looking through my stories and trying to decide which category they fell under.  I found that most of my stories tend to fall under the "Event" category, with strong undercurrents of "Character" in them.  The "Event" story, something is wrong with the fabric of the universe or something is out of order; basically, the whole story is based around this event that needs to or does happen.  As is said in the book [Chapter 3, page 82]:

"This can include the appearance of a monster (Beowulf), the "unnatural" murder of a king by his brother (Hamlet) or a guest by his host (Macbeth), the breaking of an oath (Havelock the Dane), the conquest of a Christian land by the infidel (King Horn), the birth of a child portent who some believe ought to have been born (Dune), or the reappearance of a powerful ancient adversary who is thought to be long dead (The Lord of the Rings).   

Mr. Card goes on to say that almost ALL fantasy and a lot of science fiction tends to use the event story structure.  A lot of my stories (though not all of them) tend to revolve around the last option of the above quote... usually there is some powerful adversary that arrives and must be defeated somehow.  The structure itself might be predictable, of course, but my hope is that I put a fresh twist on the story that no one else has seen before (of that, we have yet to be sure).

But see, there is this.  Like I said earlier, while almost all of my stories tend to fall into the "Event" category, all of them have strong undercurrents of "Character" in them.  As Mr. Card says, the character story is a story about the transformation of a characters role in the communities that matter most to him.  He goes on to say that the structure of a Character Story is as simple as any of the others, with the story beginning at the moment when the MC becomes so unhappy, impatient, or angry in his present role that he begins the process of change, and the story ends when the character either settles into a new role (happily or not) or gives up the struggle and remains in the old role (happily or not).  He also says that the character's attempt to change doesn't have to be a conscious decision, but instead an inadvertent move or an instinctive seizing of opportunity.

Now, when I was reading through Mr. Card's explanation of the MICE Quotient, I found myself not only comparing all of my stories with his four categories of story, but also comparing different stories I've read and am reading to see in which category they fall in.  One of the books I've been reading (and only just finished, actually... it was excellent... ) was Orson Scott Card's own "Ender's Game".  I've been wanting to read the book for a long time, long before I ever learned it was going to be a movie, though I will admit that that was a motivation to get the book read as quickly as possible.  And here is something I discovered about Mr. Card's book that was extremely interesting to me specifically because of reading the other writing how-to book: "Ender's Game" is almost entirely a character story.

Of course, other readers could have read Ender's story without ever reading "Writing fantasy and Science Fiction", and they probably easily could have told me this.  But for me, having read Mr. Card's explanation of that type of story really made me analyze the characters in the book, and not just the characters alone, but also Mr. Card's choices for his characters.  I found myself thinking things like, "Who was Ender before, who was he really?  What did he become?  Why?  What drove him there?", but then I would also find myself asking other questions simultaneously along the lines of, "Why did Mr. Card chose that particular situation?  What did the character gain from it?  What did he loose?  How was this instance used to foreshadow events later on in the book?  How did this event reflect on an earlier even in the book?  How did Mr. Card connect these two events, and how did he make it effect his main character, and the characters around his main character?"

Yes, this type of analyzing is very much a writing thing.  It is very probable that not many readers who are not writers would ever try to analyze the choices of another writer in order to get an idea of how the whole story fit together and why... and they certainly wouldn't do so in their free-time for pleasure.    Literature classes try to do something similar to this, and they pick apart works by Shakespeare and other literary geniuses in the hopes that some of the kids will somehow find the information useful, but the truth is that half the kids in those classes don't understand what they are doing or why they have to do it. Most of the time you will notice it is those students who have some deep internal connection with words and writing that understand those classes best.  And these are the students that will take the most away with them.

What sets my books apart from "Ender's Game" is this:

"Ender's Game" is all about this little boy who is ultimately trained to become the best battle tactition, strategist, and commander the world has ever seen... and he is trained to become this through a series of high-tech games.  To Ender, the games are many things... they are a way of life, they are training, they are school... and yes, they are also just games -- something he is good at, a puzzle, something to figure out, and sometimes fun.  From the beginning of the book to the very end, we watch and sees and Ender sees, and feel as he feels.  There is, of course, an event that the book is leading up to (the ultimate defeat of the alien buggers who had attacked Earth years and years before and had been driven off) but that is not the true point of the story.  The true purpose of this book is not to see how the buggers are defeated.   The true purpose of this book is to watch Ender evolve from a little boy of 6 first entering into battle school, into a much more mature boy of 11 who becomes the greatest Star Fleet Commander of all time... and how Ender deals with it.  This book is all about its character.  If it were all about its event, it would be an entirely different story.

Taking this into account though, sometimes I wonder if my books aren't actually Character stories after all.  Can a story be both a character story and an event story in equal parts?  I don't know.  I think about "Song of the Daystar" and "Eldrei" and "The Cinder Beast" and all the other books that I have started or plan to start, and I have to wonder, because without their events, these books have no story at all... none.  I feel like Ender's Game could have had a different event and the story of Ender would have been similar because of how that book's whole purpose was its character.  I don't feel like that with my books.  Without there own events -- their exact events -- don't think my stories would not exist, or else they would be completely and totally changed.

And yet...

And yet it's hard for me to call my stories simply "Event Stories" when I know how extremely, EXTREMELY important their specific characters with their characters' specific traits, personalities, and evolutions are to them.  I have a thing for characters... especially well developed and evolving ones.  I want my characters and my events to work hand in hand so thoroughly that the story cannot be itself if one element is given precedence over the other.

But is this even possible?  I want to say it is, but as I start looking back through my library of read books, I begin to wonder...  They are all pretty easily categorized as one or the other.

Tolkien's LOTR is an Event story.
The Inheritance Series is an Event story.
Ender's Game is obviously a Character story.
Graceling is a Character story, as is its sequel, Fire.
The Blood of Kings books revolve strictly around an Event... the characters are extremely important to that event but they are not the main story in and of themselves.
Failstate is a character story from beginning to end.
The Wingfeather Saga is an event story.
So is the Auralia strand.
And "The Book of Names" and all its sequels

The list goes on and on.

Actually, there is one book that I can't decide on.  I want to say that "A Cast of Stones" is a character story, but it's hard to tell.  The event is important, but wouldn't exist (at least not in the same way) without its main character, and likewise the main character wouldn't become who he is without the event.  There is not one without the other -- they are so closely tied, that they are almost, if not completely, one and the same.  This is the sort of thing I want to happen with "Song of the Daystar", and I have discovered that it is a difficult balance to create.

So, while analyzing my own books using the MICE Quotient, I have come to some interesting conclusions about my writing and myself as a writer:

1) Yes I am definitely an event writer, but that doesn't always define my stories.  I like to take an event and use it in an attempt to develop my characters to such an extent that one cannot exist without the other.  Does that automatically make my stories event stories?  I really don't know... I guess that's ultimately up to the reader to decide.

2) This was not always the case. In earlier attempts at novels, a lot of my characters were flat and uninteresting, and the whole story revolved entirely around the event.  These first few stories were really not good... They will probably never see the light of day again, at least not without some EXTENSIVE revisions.  But then again, writing is a success by trial and error type of art... without doing, one cannot learn.

3) I would like to someday write several stories using each of the four elements in the MICE Quotient as the main element of a book.  Specifically, though, I would like to use the character element.  Whereas right now I use an event to develop my characters, I wonder what it would be like to take a character and use him or her to develop an event.

4) I am honestly quiet terrified and intimidated by the idea of #3.  I have several story ideas right now that I could attempt it with, but I'm not sure how to start.

I suppose I will have to stretch myself.  It's hard to grow if you are comfortable where you are.  I'm very comfortable right now with the way that I write stories, and so I don't explore the art nearly as much as I used to.  Perhaps its time to get uncomfortable again.  Perhaps its time to grow.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Writing Remnants: First Person Vs. Third Person

                I remember the very first short story I’d ever written… and it wasn’t very good.  I was 12 years old, and it was sort of a child’s half-hacked interpretation of “Stone Soup”, only it was about a girl with a big imagination who decided to make soup out of dandelions because she didn’t have any real ingredients.  She decided that she would pretend the soup was delicious so that she wouldn’t be hungry anymore, even though the soup didn’t really taste very good.

                And that’s it.  That was literally the entirety of the story.  It was named (aptly enough) “Dandelion Soup”, and somewhere along the lines of transitioning between one computer and the next, I lost the document.  That’s ok though, because this post isn’t really about that story or any of my other stories.  This post is actually about how I WROTE that story.  You see, I wrote that story in third person point of view… which means that the story itself was about a girl, and I was telling the story.

                To this day, I cannot tell you why I wrote that story in Third POV.  It was almost instinctual.  I’d seen it done in so many other books that I figured that all stories must be written this way, so I wrote mine like that too.  Now I’ve written posts and posts about POV, and about showing vs. telling, and all other sorts of things that have to do with writing… but the point of my telling you about my first short story at the age of 12 is that at the time I didn’t know anything about writing well, so I just wrote… and what came out was how I thought stories were supposed to be.  Third person felt natural to me.

                I also remember the first time I read a book that was in First Person POV.  I was probably 13.  The story was set in a medieval world and was about a girl whose father had been killed.  She learned to fight and ride like a man, and discovered that she had some royal blood in her from generations past.  She wanted to make something more of her life and so she set out to do just that.  I think her name was Illyn, but I can’t remember for sure.

                I DO remember thinking what a strange book it was though.  The person telling the story spoke as if she was the girl Illyn… but surely the writer wasn’t Illyn, because the book was a fantasy AND set in the middle ages.  There was no way the author could have lived that long to write her own story down in such detail.  No possible way!  And yet I felt as though Illyn herself had stepped out of her pages and told me her tale with her own lips.

                At that point in time, I still didn’t realize that there was more than one point of view a person could use to write a story.  I was absolutely amazed that this author had done something so different from everything I was used to.  She’d obviously made up the story of Illyn, but had written it as if she were her own character.  I wanted to know if other people had done this type of thing before, so I started researching, and that was how I was introduced to the idea of different POV’s.

I’ve been thinking about these events for the past few days now and comparing the experiences to where I am now in my writing career.  Remembering all of this made me wonder: why do writers choose different POV’s to write their stories in?  What are the pros and cons of first person vs. third person?

Up until a few months ago, all of my stories (save one) were written in third person.  I’m comfortable with this type of writing mainly because I don’t have to be involved in the story to tell it.  I mean, I have to write it, of course, but writing a story is different from being involved in the story.  None of the events of the story have actually happened to me; I took no part in them.  When you think about it, this is what makes writing in third person seem rather impersonal at first.  The story becomes more like a movie than anything else; it still may affect the writer emotionally, but because the events in the story aren’t actually happening to author, the writer doesn’t have to deal with the consequences of the actions.  For example, if one of my characters stabs my MC, I may feel intense sympathy for him, but I won’t feel the actual stab wound… my job is to write down that it happened and how it feels to the character, not to actually experience it myself.    

Because of this, third person pov makes it easier for me to take in the extra little details that the characters in the story might not notice at first, or might overlook: the color of the chandelier or carpeting in one room or another, the strange markings here or there on a statue, or the reason a secondary character might like to wear a certain type of coat, even though the MC is completely oblivious to the fact.  I can also (on occasion) switch from what’s happening to one character to what’s happening to another character without it seeming awkward or confusing.  I can know my characters intimately from the get-go if I want to, or learn about them as I write if I would prefer.  And for me, this works.  In fact, it works for a lot of famous writers (as well as those who aren’t so famous).  It worked for J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, George R. R. Martin, and J.K. Rowling.

There are two big downsides that come with writing in third person, though, and they work hand in hand.  #1: it’s easier to fall into a “telling” state when writing in third person, and #2: the writing can seem impersonal at times (usually because the writer has fallen into a state of “telling” what’s going on in a story instead of “showing” it.)   I’ve blogged about the art of “showing vs. telling” several times before, (here) and (here) so I won’t go into it right now.  However, I will point out that mastering the technique of “showing” an event in a story instead of “telling” about an event in a story takes a long time… I still grapple with it, even though I have a better handle on it than some writers do.

                Interestingly enough, where Third Person POV has its faults, First Person POV finds its strengths.  Writing in first person is like writing the story from your own point of view, as if you were the main character and experiencing all of the events of the story first hand.  It’s a lot easier to “show” when writing in first person, and “telling” isn’t frowned upon nearly as much… in fact, it’s almost expected.  If someone doesn’t know about another character, of course your MC (or you, by extension) is going to tell his or her captivated audience what they known about the person.  There is likely to be some physical details mentioned as well as a quick explanation of the MC’s relationship to and with the other character.  Of course, such things are also done in third person POV, but it takes a lot more work to get them “right”, and they seem so much more natural when done in first person.

For example:

#1: Third Person POV

“(The king) chuckled at that, but did not reply.  Instead he continued standing before the gigantic bay window, arms folded behind his back, looking out on the sprawling city beyond and completely ignoring his son.  And so, leaning back against the doorframe, Markayle studied him: the king of Tevaun, his father.[…]

“For a man past his prime, Markaye’s father still looked and acted young, and he could be just as infuriating and reckless.  His temper when stoked had no equal in the Five Kingdoms, and his rage burned like dragon flame.  Yet for that, he was a good king, even Markayle had to admit it… the son the king saw as both his heart and his deepest disgrace.”


#2: First Person POV
He chuckled at that, but did not reply.  Instead he continued standing before the gigantic bay window, arms folded behind his back, looking out on the sprawling city beyond and completely ignoring me. And so, leaning back against the doorframe, I studied him: the king of Tevaun, my father. […]

“For a man past his prime, my father still looked and acted young, and he could be just as infuriating and reckless.  His temper when stoked had no equal in the Five Kingdoms, and his rage burned like dragon flame.  Yet for that, he was a good king, even I had to admit… me, the son he saw as both his heart and his deepest disgrace.”

To me, the difference is clear. In example #1, the second paragraph sounds very telling.  It’s all information that the MC, Markayle, already knows, but it sounds as if I’m the one who is telling the reader about the king, and not as if Markayle is observing or thinking about these aspects of his father.  This is the type of thing that writers all over the world try NOT to do when writing in third person.  A little bit of telling is good, but a lot can make the story seem dry… more like a text book than a novel.  If I were to fix that excerpt in third person, I would add bits and pieces of Markayle’s actual thoughts to the scene, as well as a few of Markayle’s memories to confirm his father’s personality.

In example #2, the situation is reversed.  With Markayle narrating his own story, the reader understands that the MC is thinking about his father and their strained relationship, as well as his father’s personality.  It doesn’t seem nearly so awkward when this type of information is coming through a character’s thoughts as it does when it appears to be some sort of off-handed info thrown in by the author to explain something.  Notice that the wording is the exact same in both excerpts with the exception of the point-of-view switch.  (Example #2 is the original excerpt from my WIP, “The Cinder Beast”.)

Another interesting thing to note about the differences between the two POVs is what some people might call, “Camera positions”.  I’ve read blog posts and books by authors who would swear that writing a scene for a novel is like positioning the camera just right.  To a degree this is so, but the way you position those “cameras” depends on the point of view.  In third person, the camera can pretty much swing around the room (within reason).  One moment it can be looking at the face of your MC, and the next it can sneak up behind your secondary character to see what he’s up to. 

In first person POV, the camera is always the eyes of the MC.  Period.  The end.  Your character’s eyes can’t detach themselves from their sockets (unless for some odd reason you give your character that ability) and so the cameras always have to stay in your MC’s head.  This makes the emotional connection with the MC stronger, but often limits the viewing angles of a scene, as well as what the reader is allowed to know… because, of course, with first person POV, your reader can only know and see what your character knows and sees at that point in time. Third Person isn’t always as limited.  

There are, of course, other types of POV.  

There is "Third person limited" (which basically means that the pov is limited to only one character... a great example of this is in "A Cast of Stones" by Patrick W. Carr), "Third Person multiple" (which is where a writer can switch between which character holds the current POV.  This is best done by switching out a scene or chapter... George R. R. Martin has proven himself a master at this POV with his "A song of Ice and Fire" series), and "Third Person Omnicient" (where the narrator of the story knows EVERYTHING and switches on a whim between characters; the narrator isn't limited by what one character knows, and sort of knows everything at once.  The best example of this is in J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.)  

There is also a type of pov known as "Second Person" which is generally only used in instructional writing and rarely in fiction.  It is told from the perspective of "you" (meaning, basically, that some one else is telling you how things are, addressing you... or perhaps making you see yourself as the character.)  Some good examples of "Second Person" in fiction would be "Bright Lights, Big City" by Jay McInerney, and "The Screwtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis.

So... now that you’ve had a chance to read about some of my observations on POV, what are some of yours?  Let me know in the comments. :D

Friday, September 27, 2013

"Cast of Stones" -- A Review

In the backwater village of Callowford, roustabout town drunkard, Errol Stone’s, life changes with the arrival of a church messenger.  Seeking to earn a few coins with which to buy more of his favorite intoxicating drink, Errol agrees to deliver an urgent message to the hermit priest living in the hills outside Callowford.  However, he soon finds himself being hunted by deadly assassins.  Forced to flee for his life with the priest and a slightly odd assortment of traveling companions (all of whom are not what they first seem), Errol soon learns that he’s been made part of a quest that could change the fate of the kingdom, and that will almost certainly change his own life.

Protected for a millennia by the heirs of the first king of Illustra, the kingdom’s dynasty nears its end and the selection of the new king begins – but in secret and shadow.  Something is seeking to destroy the only people who are capable of reading the round wood and stone balls known as “lots” that decide the many important decisions of the kingdom, including the successor to the throne.  The church is in turmoil, and the ancient order of the Watch is under duress with its power now being split between its charge and duty to guard the king and its new orders to serve the church.  As danger mounts, Errol must leave behind the stains and griefs of the past, learn to fight, and discover who is hunting him and his companions and how far they will go to stop the reading of the stones. 

My Thoughts:  

Ok, guys, I’m not going to beat around the bush with this one.  This book was EXCELLENT.  There was SO much that I loved about it, and so much that I want to take away from it, not just as food for thought concerning my own life, but also interesting perceptions into character traits and humanity that I really, really want to be able to portray in my own writings.  This book made me question myself and my writings, and on top of that it easily made me feel towards the characters all that it wanted me to feel without the feeling becoming forced. I’m telling you, friends, I WANT to be able to write like this.

Mr. Carr is obviously a master at his craft, and at the art of “showing” us the story, rather than “telling” it to us.  The story itself flew by and I hardly even realized I was reading it.  I couldn’t put the book down… honestly, I couldn’t.  I stayed up one night from 9pm to 8 the next morning trying to finish the book.  At the time, I hadn’t even realized I’d been up all night until the sun started shining through my window!  The characters in this book are so vividly portrayed, and not just physically but emotionally, spiritually, and personally.  The world is wide, wild, and so realistic it’s hard to believe it’s not real.  And, to make things even better, we don’t really know who the real villain is of the story; there’s no one to pin-point all the blame on.  With a lot of the bad things happening throughout the book, we don’t know who is instigating them or where they are coming from or why.  We find all of that out along with the characters. 

The whole thing is just… it’s so wonderfully portrayed, I’m still in awe even days later!   

Let’s start with Errol Stone. 

In the beginning of the book, Errol is a drunk.  We know this.  We can see it clearly. Yet while we are given hints to the fact that what caused Errol to drown his sorrows in an ale barrel happened sometime in his past, the reason for Errol’s sorrow and his need for the drink are not revealed until later in the book.  Then you have the fact that Errol is a poor boy, a drunkard, slight of frame and build, and not looked well upon by almost anyone.  The village priest beats him when he becomes too drunk and throws him in the stocks to teach him a lesson, but of course all that does is make Errol hate the church more.  After all, what has the church ever done for him but give him beatings?  Errol has also made friends with the herb-women that live around his village, but the church thinks they are evil and have persecuted them for their art… which, needless to say, doesn’t make Errol’s view of the church any brighter.  The only exception to this is Pater Martin, the old hermit priest who lives far out of town.  The old priest has shown Errol kindness in the past, and while it doesn’t change Errol’s mind about the church, it does give him some hope that perhaps not all of the church members are as snobby and cruel as Antil, the one who beats him. 

Then one day Errol’s life is changed when a church messenger comes with an urgent missive for Pater Martin from the capital city of Erinon.  Errol agrees to take the message to the hermit-priest in exchange for a payment he knows will buy him a lot of drinks in the future.  But perhaps Pater Martin is more important than Errol thought, because why else would Assasins their eerie whistling arrows be after him and the message he’s supposed to deliver?

What I liked most about Errol is that fact that he seems very… REAL.  Extremely believable.  He’s a flawed man, and in the beginning of the book, he’s perfectly okay with being flawed.  His attitude is pretty much, “This who I am.  If you don’t like it, then I don’t care.”  But the reader gets a sense that deep down Errol is actually very hurt and that he’s even ashamed of who he has become.  He pretends that he doesn’t care, when in reality he cares SO much that it’s not just the bad memories that drive him to the drink, but also his shame… the drink makes him numb to all around him.  He doesn’t have to care when he’s wasted… he’s almost forced to when he’s sober. 

 But Errol also has the need to better himself.  It comes with his shame.  When he’s sober enough to think about it, he knows he doesn’t want to be what he is.  And when someone finally steps up to help him deal with his problems instead of pitying him and going along with it, Errol rises above the expectations of what he has become and proves to  himself and everyone else that he can be much more than just the town drunk.  He’s a hard worker, one who wants to prove himself… one who wants to be the best he can be.  He simply needs someone to believe in him in order for him to start believing in himself.

I absolutely LOVE that.  I mean, wow… in the book, Errol has reached the bottom.  He is the dregs of humanity.  And yes, some strange things happen to push him on his way, but once he was given the hope he needed, he quickly became something much more desirable.

But let’s not just focus on Errol… let’s look at the rest of the book.  I have two words for you…

Church Politics.

Personally, I was very happy with the show of complicated church politics in this book… mainly because I’m dealing with church politics in one of my own books, but still.   I love how Carr alluded to the mystery that (to the general masses) often seems to surround the church and her politics and leaders.  You have corruption, you have lies, you have left out details that are supposedly for the greater good but that actually cause more harm than good, you have different views on theology and context… you have hate and power often competing with true love and kindness, but then you have pity competing with tough love… and you have outer-strengths competing with inner weaknesses.  Each of the characters involved in the church obviously have different, often clashing, personalities and interests.  The Readers of the church quickly become some of the most curious people in the story, especially since Errol himself is supposed to be one, even though he’s way past the age of testing.  All of the elements are all just woven together so well!

And then to make things even BETTER, this is one of the very few books that kept me guessing the entire way through it.  It doesn’t happen very often anymore.  I wonder if that’s just part of being an avid reader and a writer myself… the sense that you know or can guess what’s going to happen next. 

I never had that sense with this book.  Throughout the entire thing I felt like there was something I was missing – something just out of my reach that I knew I would be able to understand if only I was given that ONE clue that would explain everything to me.  But, you see, I was never actually given that clue.  Events happened, and I would be struck blindside with them, wondering how I could have missed foretelling such things.  I felt like Carr had mastered the trick that Doyle used in his Sherlock books.  You know how Sherlock always seems to know what’s going on, but doesn’t reveal much of anything until the end so as to keep the reader guessing?  I felt like Carr had accomplished something very similar in this book, and let me tell you, it was DEFINITELY a welcomed change.

It also made me glad I had taken an interest in the art of combat with pole arms a few years ago.  I won’t go into the details of that encounter now, but I’ve known for a long time that I personally prefer the use of a pole arm to that of a sword… and yet not many fantasy heroes use poles in combat.  Well, Errol does.  That was both surprising and refreshing, and it made me want to up my studies concerning the use of staves and other such long-reaching weapons in fighting.

I give “A Cast of Stones” 5 out of 5 stars.  A worthy, fast paced read that is both informative and fun.  This was one book I put down after turning the last page and said, “Now that was worth every penny I spent on it”. (which is really saying something, especially when I spent almost $20.00 on it. Lol!)  Seriously… go find the book and read it.  You won’t be sorry you did. ^_^

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Writing is My Life

Today when I woke up, I decided to get on Facebook for a few minutes and check my notifications.  I'm part of several writing groups on there that I try to keep tabs on and contribute to on occasion.  In one of these groups, I came across the post of a girl who was frustrated with the fact that there are so many people out there all too ready and willing to bash Writing as a career choice.

I know how this girl feels.  I go through the same thing.  Many writer's do.  And I guess I understand (to some degree at least) why so many people don't see it as what they like to call a "real" job.

It's because writing is different.  Upon first glance, it seems really laid back.  You go into a coffee shop, look around, and perhaps there are a dozen or so writers sitting at a table not far from you, sipping their coffee leisurely and typing away on their laptop keyboards.   Writing doesn't LOOK hard... at least upon first glance.  In fact, a lot of people think that it's something that almost anyone can do... sit at a keyboard and type.  How perfectly simple, right?

Most people don't categorize writing as a "real" job (forget about all the script writers of every movie or TV show you've ever watched, every newspaper article you've ever read, or every book you've ever bought at a bookstore).  Most people think "a real job" has something to do with hard physical labor -- after all, a lot of jobs require this.  Usually there's a time slot in which you have to go to work and clock in, stay at work to work, and then clock out of work to go home.  At some jobs there are offices and computers.  A lot of the time, though, people define a "real" job as working for somebody else who pays you money in the form of a salary or hourly wage.

Of course there are a few successful entrepreneurs out there.  Have you ever watched the show, "Shark Tank" where small business owners from all over the states come in to talk to these big corporate managers (referred to as "sharks") and try to get them interested in their little company?  These little business guys don't come in without some pretty impressive numbers/statistics and past success stories to show.  They've made it on their own so far, and now they are ready to take their companies further, and they are willing to offer shares in the company for the help and money they need to succeed.

But, you know how it goes, right?  Those successful little business men and women are the exceptions. Surely writers don't fall under that category, right?  After all, writers are only sitting down at a keyboard and typing... and typing... and typing.  Anyone can do that.  It doesn't pay money... what's the point?  Writers just need to go find real jobs where they work for someone else, doing someone else' dirty work, and getting paid minimum wage for all of their hard labor.  That's just how life goes.

Well, maybe so.  Maybe writers do need another job on the side to keep them floating in between paychecks, or while they are trying to get their career off the ground.  Currently I have another job on the side, and I'm looking for a second... I'm not going to bash what other people refer to as "real" jobs.  But that does NOT mean that writing is by any means "easy" or "not a real job" or "not a true career".


Because there's this:  If writing isn't a real job and publishing can be termed as "just a hobby", how in the world did all of the books we have today come into existence?  Why do so many people know how to read?  And why is reading so important in today's society?

I have personally come to this conclusion.  Many people don't think of writing as a "job" or "carreer" because #1) they don't understand it, #2) they have never tried it themselves, and #3) even if they have tried it before, they weren't really serious about it.

The serious writers know better.  Writing is not something that you can just "pick up and go" with.  If you are serious about making it in the writing world, the first and foremost thing you have to do is write without complaint and without exception.  Write everything you can think of at any moment that you have to spare.  Even while you're working on other projects, keep thinking about writing and what you are going to write next.  And keep writing no matter what... even when you are tired.  Even when you have no ideas.  Even when you are sick and just want to curl up in a ball and not talk to anyone.  YOU HAVE TO WRITE.

Though writing looks easy, it's actually not.  Writing, like painting, may seem like play at first -- there are all these pretty colors and inspirations floating through the air!  Type them out as fast as you can and hope that it turns into something extraordinary!  But what happens when the inspiration goes away, and you have a deadline coming up, and you HAVE to finish writing this ONE particular scene that you absolutely have no idea what to do with?  What happens when you've finished a rough draft and go back and realize that most of what you've written is crap and wouldn't make it in the marketing world of today, but you still think it's a good story and you know someone will want to read it so you start to re-write?  What happens when you have a finished manuscript in your hands and the only way the public is going to see if is either if you start querying large companies to look at your work or take matters into your own hands and do the whole thing yourself which costs lots of time and money and energy and work???

The 2 biggest things I've noticed that serious writers have on their side are their determination and their ability to think.  In fact, thinking is one of our strongest assets... because you don't have a story if you can't think of one, and you'll never finish writing that difficult scene if you don't think of a way to solve your problem.  Speculative Fiction writers are known for creating entire WORLDS and races and new species and rules that all have to work together seamlessly in order for the story to make sense.  And you have to have characters that feel and sound like real people, and act that way too.  All of the aspects in a story have to work together like clockwork, even when something bad happens... You can't break the rules you make for the story, you can't have people breaking character, and even the unbelievable things have to have a sense of believability about them.  Doing and creating all of this does not require ONLY writing (though that is probably the biggest part of it); it also requires lots and lots of researching and studying every aspect of the writing process in order to more fully understand how to write WELL, and not just write something.  (yes, there is a difference).

And as far as determination goes, I've seen so many writers who have been beset by doubters and who have heard over and over that they should forget writing as a career... that it is only a hobby, and that they may never find success.  In fact, I've had people like this in my life too.  But I've watched these writers rise above the condemnation of the masses, and succeed where no one said they could.  It's not such an unheard of story.  In fact, it grows more common every day.  Just look up Amanda Hocking or Joe Konrath if you don't believe me.  Just look up any of the authors that you enjoy reading.  Writers are proving to the world that they are important, and that it doesn't matter what the doubters and naysayers claim, they can succeed.

There is one more thing that comes with serious writing.  It's a sense of being compelled almost to the point of insanity to sit down and ink words onto paper in the form of a story or tale.  Serious writers know this feeling, and they will tell how it haunts them every hour of every day of their lives.  For us, writing is not just a passion... it's a drive.  We simply cannot possibly comprehend a world where we could not sit down for however short a time to write out the stories burbling up inside of us.  We would explode if we were forced to pen them in.  Writers have to pour their hearts, minds, and souls into their writings -- they have to give it EVERYTHING they have, or the work simply isn't good enough.  Writers know this.  It's why we so vehemently stand behind quotes like, "There is nothing to writing; all you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."  This is true.  It's so true.  Serious writers bleed their entire lives into their work, and it frustrates us when others look at our pain-bought triumphs yet can't see the amount of effort and hard work it took to create them. How can people not see the scars we've procured, not notice the pain in our eyes, or the way we have changed while writing something?  People enjoy reading the products of our sleepless nights spent in a typing frenzy when they can simply pick the books off a shelf and go buy them... and yet somehow to them writing is not a REAL job.

Well, for heaven's sake, why not?!?  If you love something enough, and are passionate about it enough, and enjoy it, and are driven to it enough, why can't you learn to make money from it too???  Because personally, I think that if more people decided to choose a path in college that they are apt to enjoy instead of one they think will make them money fast, people would discover that it is possible to make a living off of something that makes you happy, and employers would be more happy with their employees' performances.  

In many ways, writing is much more REAL than people can imagine.  It is much harder than people can possibly comprehend.  It consumes those who follow it as a career choice, and yes, it is possible to become successful at it.  Because writing is far more than just a job, or a career choice, and it's much much more than just a hobby... it's a way of life.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Call to Worship: Following the Leader

Ok, picture this with me now.

It's early Sunday morning, and if your family is anything like mine, you're rushing around trying to get ready for church. Mom is in the bathroom curling her hair and putting on make-up, Dad is rummaging through the bedroom, Brother is grumpy because he had to get up early, Sister is primping for her boyfriend, and the youngest Sister is complaining about having to take a bath and crying over getting her hair combed. You are probably trying to find that one shirt or pair of dress pants that of course are not in your closet or dresser drawers when you need them, and your good shoes are missing. You reach for your second best pair and hope no one at church will notice the scuffs. Everything is hectic rushing and running, and ALL so you can get to church (which is an hour's drive away) in time for the Worship Service.

 When you get to church, everyone meets and greets, talks and laughs, smiles, shakes hands, hugs, and drinks coffee before filing into the sanctuary and either sitting or standing (according to preference) to listen to music. Sometimes you even sing along if you know the words. The person who is on stage "leading" is strumming away at the guitar (or playing the piano) looking about as scared as a deer in the headlights, while the back-up vocalist to the leader's side is rocking out on their mic, totally oblivious to everything around them including the tune and the beat of the song. The kids in the front row are already bored and the girls are playing with dolls while the boys are causing trouble among themselves. The Youth Group are standing where they always do, but only half of the teens are pretending to pay attention or care, and the other half are busy sneaking glances at that one cute guy or girl over in the corner with the confident air and the popular clothes that they have a crush on. A few of them are visiting. Parents all around the room are mouthing the words to the songs, or have their eyes closed as if in prayer though in reality they are mentally going through a checklist of all that has to be done that afternoon and on into the week. And some of the old men in the back are already dozing off. It's a typical Sunday morning.

Now tell me friends, what is wrong with this picture? Have you figured it out yet? Have you noticed the lack of interest, the distracted glances, and disrespectful whispers? Where is the reverence? The passion? The fire?

 My friends, this is NOT how a Worship Service should be.

Now, I'm not saying that every church is like this. In fact, I feel rather blessed to have a home church where this particular scenario is not the usual case. But lately I've had the chance to visit a few other churches around my area, and let me tell you, I don't like what I've been seeing. It's not that there aren't people who love God with all their hearts IN these churches... there are! And I know some of them. But my question is, why is this happening in the church in the first place?

And I have come to a conclusion. It's the Worship Leaders.

I'm not trying to condemn Worship Leaders here; I am one, after all (or rather, I have been, and I'm still on a worship team). But there is something in the position title that I think a lot of people overlook. 

Worship Leaders are supposed to be leaders. They aren't just the first ones to sing or the loudest ones... they are supposed to lead a congregation in worship. And believe me when I say, it’s not an easy task. Worship leaders have a lot on their shoulders… they’re not just up on stage to perform; they are up there to bring a body of very different people together in unity in celebration and praise for the Lord most high, and to prepare hearts and minds for the sermon about to be spoken. Worship leading isn’t just singing in front of people; it’s a constant state of prayer where you are not only reaching out with your heart and soul to the congregation and to God, but you are also preparing yourself. You are looking deep inside yourself for your flaws and you are praying for the strength to overcome them. 

And worshiping leading doesn’t just happen on Sunday.

 When my church first started, all of the members of the worship team would get an email early in the week that would give us the songs we would sing on Sunday so that we could practice. Then, early Sunday morning, we would get together to practice before the actual sermon. This worked for a while, but it was confusing… Sometimes people would show up late on Sunday morning for practice, and sometimes the songs wouldn’t “fit” the mood of the sermon or the word that someone had been given, etc… After a while, our team decided to try a different tactic. Throughout the week we would each pray about what songs should be in the service on Sunday in order to best prepare people’s hearts for the sermon and for God speaking. On Friday, the whole team would meet and talk to the pastor about the sermon he felt compelled to give that week. (I usually went early to play guitar and sing.) Then we would write down a list of the songs we had prayed about, pray over the list together, and choose the ones that fit best. After that, we’d go practice in the sanctuary. On Sunday morning, then, we’d do a run-through and have intersession and prayer after practice until people started coming into the church and it was time to start. And not surprisingly, the worship in the services after we started this routine improved not only in the leaders and the musicians up on stage, but also in the congregation.

The point of all that was to show that worship leading is not just a one day thing; it should be happening all week every week behind the scenes, as well as Sunday morning on stage. There are a lot of people who go to church on Sunday just so they can say that they go to church, but Worship Leaders can’t be like that; it’s not just a performance, it’s a way of life. Worship Leaders are called to lead in praising the lord, not just singing. Singing is a gift, but worship is a calling. We must fashion ourselves to be as David was, dancing and singing in front of the lord so hard that people looked at him and called him a fool… but David said, “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”

Worship Leaders! We have to put away our fear of being made a fool in the eyes of the people. That fear is what makes us performers, but not worshipers. True worship comes from the heart, and it is oblivious to fear or worry or care… it is sweet abandonment in the assured knowledge of God’s love and grace for his people and all that he wants for us and all that he has already done. We must humble ourselves and prepare ourselves before God long before we get up to sing and play, because whether you like it or not, people are following our examples. Without God, we are nothing but performers, but with God we are worshipers.

 So this is a challenge to any of you out there reading this. Even if you are not on stage playing an instrument or singing into a microphone on Sunday morning, be a worship leader in your church. Even if you feel you have no musical gift, be a worship leader. For this is the reality; God has called us all to worship, and making a joyful noise before Him does not have to be strictly musical. Worship God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and others will follow your example. And if all the body of Christ lifts their voice in true and heartfelt praise to God, just think of what a beautiful noise Heaven will be filled with!


 1 Chronicles 16:23-31 

 Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!"

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My Top Ten Writing Quirks

Hello Bloggy friends! ^_^  Today I decided to lighten the mood a bit and just sort of "go with the flow".  I have a couple of other posts in the making, but they're taking longer than I'd like and I wanted a break, so I decided to write down the top 10 quirks I have as a writer.  I got the idea from an interview with Anne Elizabeth Stengl over here:

It seemed like such a neat idea, I decided to do one of my own.  And you might notice, that some of our quirks are similar, but that's not on purpose... its just the truth of it. :)

So here we go in no real order whatsoever. :)

1) No music or noise around.

I don't know why, but I've never been able to listen to music as I write.  I think it's because I have to hear the words I'm putting down on paper in my head as I type them.  Sometimes I can listen to soft music in the background, but usually they have to be strictly instrumental and the language cannot be in English or I get distracted by listening to the lyrics.  I have actually created a play-list for two of my stories in my media player, but I don't listen to them as I type; instead I listen to them as I'm doing other things to sort of help me keep in mind the mood of my story and what it is about.  But I've never been able to give my stories or my characters songs of their own... it just doesn't work.

Also, if there is other noise around or things happening around me, unless I'm left alone and completely zone out (which doesn't happen often) I simply can't concentrate.  I've tried, but it so rarely actually works, that half the time I just don't write if there's any noise around.

2) I write best when I'm supposed to be doing something else.

This is sort of a dirty little secret of mine. *blush*  I think it's the procrastinator in me.  But if there's something else I'm supposed to be doing, I'll often leave my lap-top open on a table or counter-top nearby so that I can write something down quick if it comes to me suddenly.  I've found that a lot of my favorite stuff has come to me while in the middle of doing the dishes or folding laundry or something like that.  I used to do this with a pen and notebook, but over the years it became harder for me to write out actual scenes long-hand.  Ideas are fine, but not scenes.  I don't know why.  Besides, its easier not to smudge the writing with dish-hands when you use a computer instead of paper. :)

3) Standing up while typing helps ideas flow.

This one is tied with #2.  I like to sit down and type, of course, but I've found that there's something about standing up to type that just makes the ideas come better.  I'm not sure if the standing helps with focus or what... it just seems to work.    I'm hoping that once I get moved out and have a new writing area designated and decorated to my liking, I'll be able to focus better while sitting down. lol!

4) Brainstorm out loud

I do this a lot.  Especially while I'm working on something else.  Or driving.  I'll talk and mutter to myself about ideas, sometimes even speaking out a scene sentence by sentence as it comes to me.  I even pace sometimes while muttering.  Then I'll pause to go and write down what I just said.  For a while I started carrying around a pocket voice recorder to help me with this... I still do this, but the words never come as easy when I'm trying to record them.  Instead, I use the recorder to try and talk through issues I'm having with my stories.  I don't dictate scenes into the recorder... instead I sort of have a one-way interview with myself about the different aspects of the story and how it all works together and what's supposed to happen and what isn't happening... that sort of thing.  Any ideas I have while recording, I can then play back and listen to later to use in my stories. :)

5) Journal instead of Outlining

I used to say I was a Pantster through and through.  I don't think that's quite as true anymore.  I no-longer just sit down and write everything as it comes to me... instead, I sit and jot down plot points and ideas and thoughts and character names and so forth.  I make notes of important parts of the story, but I try to leave things relatively vague so that the story has room to tell itself.  Then, as I'm writing the story through, if I come to a block or need help with a scene or a character, I journal about it.  It's sort of like how I record one-way interviews with myself, only this time I actually write the stuff out.  It does look sort of like diary entries... and they usually start out something like, "Ok, I just had a really cool idea... what if..." or like "Ugh!  I'm having trouble with so-and-so... he just won't do what he's supposed to!..."  And yeah, I end up fighting with my characters a lot this way, but I also have found that I work through the story problems much better when I can sort of ramble about them to myself or to someone else, whether it's on paper or recorded.

6) I almost never write an actual scene long-hand... almost never.

Very true.  I'm not sure when it happened, but sometime over the past 10 years or so, I've lost the ability to think in the terms of a "scene" when I'm writing long hand.  I can journal, I can write poetry... sometimes I can write blog-posts or parts of short stories, but only very rarely can I actually get myself to write an actual scene from one of my stories long-hand.  I don't know why.  Sometimes I force myself to do it, just to see if I can get the creative juices flowing (and every once in a great while, doing this helps me break through a block), but a lot of the time the scenes just seem shallow and no where near as good as the idea itself.  Besides, I can type almost as fast as I can think, and that's a big help when it comes to writing scenes for my books.

7) I absolutely WILL NOT skip ahead

Also very true.  I just can't force myself to skip ahead and write a scene out of order.  Instead, I add comments to my documents and write notes out in notebooks to remind me of future scene ideas.  If I get stuck in a scene, I'll sit and stare at my document for hours, days, even weeks on end trying to figure out what's going on and why I can't seem to move forward, but I won't write a scene before its time.

I think this has to do with figuring out the story.  You can't write something if you don't know it... if my story won't move forward, then something must be wrong somewhere, and I should go back and find out what it is and fix it before moving on.  That will help the flow too. :)

8) I have a list of novels I go to when I need help with a scene

My bookshelves are stacked with all kinds of books, but I have one section in particular that I keep close to the front for easy access.  I use the books in this section to help me when I run into problems with certain scenes.  Some of the books have pencil markings in the margins that mark notes and wording and character or scene development that I admire.  (I don't like writing in books too often, so when I do, I use a light pencil so it's easily erased.)  Just the other day I used some of these books... I was having trouble with a scene where my character was thrown into a dungeon, and I was drawing a blank as to what a good dungeon scene might look like.  So I went over, pulled a few of these books down, and flipped through them... I read several chapters of dungeon scenes and made notes in a notebook I had beside me, and when I was done, I had a pretty good idea of how I was going to finish the dungeon scene in my own story. :D

9) I am most active in writing at night

I wake up at night... sort of "come alive".  No, I'm not a vampire, but I definitely get more alert as the sun goes down.  I'll sit up and write or read or do some other sort of activity until I start getting drowsy around 2 or 3am, and sometimes I'll just read until I fall asleep with the book lying on my face, or type until I doze off with my head on the keyboard.  I'm not sure why this is, but I definitely write more productively late at night.

10) I like making up new creatures and cultures

I'm all for using the original mythological creatures and so forth... the fairies, the elves and dwarves and goblins and so forth... (In fact, in several of my books I'm sticking with the fae people and not trying to get to elaborate with my own made up stuff) but I really do like to make up my own. :)

Some of my own creations are similar to the originals with different traits or personality types that the originals never had... like in one of my stories, I have some elvish looking creatures called the Kirri who are actually more like dwarves personality wise... they are tall and slender, graceful and fair, but they live underground in their mines in the mountains, and their love is for stone and earth and precious metals and (for some reason that I never understood, but still knew to be true) water.  Especially running water.

Then you have the creatures that are totally made up from the get-go... like the Swarns in "Eldrei", or the Corvi in "Song of the Daystar".  There's just something that I find completely and utterly fun about creating a creature and culture that has never been used or seen before.

So there ya have it.  My top 10 writing quirks.  What are some of your writing quirks?  Are some of them similar to mine or are they totally different?  Why not blog about it.  If you leave a link to your post in the comments, I'd be interested to check them out. ^_^

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Writing Fairies Have Come Back! :D

Hello friends! :)

I've been gone a long time.  A lot of things have happened.  A lot still is happening.  Last weekend was probably one of the most eventful and crazy times of my life.  I was supposed to go to the ren-faire here in central Illinois, and I had been working to finish two dresses, one for me and one for a friend.  I stayed up all night the night before to finish, and was so proud of my work!  But then, as I was driving to pick up one of my friends for the fair, I fell asleep behind the wheel, woke up too late to stop in time, ran a stop sign, jumped a curb, and flew into the ditch.  No other cars were involved, thank God!  But I was pretty banged up afterward, and now I'm in need of a car yet again (the one I had apparently can't be fixed... I'm still hoping, but things don't look too wonderful for it).  Also, the EMT's had to cut my ren-dress a bit as I was being taken to the hospital, so now I have to fix that too. lol!  Oh the troubles of life!  I'm just very thankful to be alive!

Also, I'm moving!  That's something exciting at least. Lots of interesting stuff to go through and pack, and at least half of it I forgot that I owned. lol!  I'm moving an hour away to Peoria Illinois, where I will be staying with an older lady and her family.  I've known her for most of my life, and feel really comfortable and safe staying there.  She has an economy apartment on the second floor of her house which I will be renting, and she's pretty much letting me have full reign on decorating.  I can't WAIT to post pictures of how it will look once everything is in it's place!  It will be absolutely FANTASTIC!!!! :D

In other news, MY WRITING FAIRIES HAVE COME BACK!!!  It's been a long time since they've visited me, and my books have shown the strain.  But now, I've written almost 3k extra words in SOTD in the last two weeks alone (which may not seem like a lot to anyone else, but which is a definite improvement from the dead standstill the book was at before), AND I've started brainstorming and outlining for a possible 20k novella to be entered in a contest come the end of December.  I'm thinking the novella will probably be my Nano piece this year.  It's the first year since 2009 that I'll be working on a brand new story during Nanowrimo, and not trying to add words to SOTD.  I think the new writing project will be rather refreshing, and good practice.  My writing has been rusty lately and awkward, and this may be just what I need to get back to where I used to be when it came to working on my novel. :)

I thought maybe it would be nice to post a little bit about this new writing endeavor here on the blog.  It's been absolutely AGES since I've tried to write anything new.  I hope I can remember how to do it. lol!

The requirement for the contest is that the piece be a new take on the Cinderella fairy-tale.  I've always wanted to rewrite a fairy-tale!  I have plans to one day rewrite the story of the six swans, or maybe the story of the Snow Queen, but I haven't gotten that far yet.  However, I saw this contest as an opportunity to flex my skills and see what I could come up with. :)

My entry will be titled, "The Cinder-Beast".  It's going to mix elements of "Cinderella" and "Beauty and the Beast," and there will be a few other twists as well.  Here's a quick summary of what I'm working on so far.


Prince Markayle is the very last of the royal line of Aendor, heir to the throne of Tevaun, and a fugitve.  Forced to flee for his life from the evil dragon that has overrun his kingdom, Markayle is now known as the Cinder-Beast because of the Dragon's curse which renders anything he touches to fall away in cinders.  Along with this curse comes another: three long pale scars from dragon claws which completely disfigure the right side of his face and make him look like a monster.  The only reason he survived the encounter was because the fae took pity on him and healed his wounds.  Now, gifted with enchanted gloves that guard objects from his touch and a mask that hides his disfigurements from others, Markayle has set out on a journey to find a way to break his curse, banish the dragon from his kingdom, and reclaim his throne.

Marcella is a servant in the palace of Emroin.  Her job is to serve the princess Anaiya, but when Anaiya is kidnapped by an evil dragon from the north, suspicions are cast on Marcella and she is tried and banished.  Forced to wander the forests of Emroin alone, Marcella comes across a strange man in a mask and gloves.  He calls himself Kayle, and doesn't talk much.  He will not say why he wears his mask, and he will not take off his gloves.  He is searching for someone... a woman whom he was told could cure a mortal ailment he possesses which he gained from a dragon.  In him, Marcella finds her hope, and they set out to rescue Anaiya together.

But Kayle isn't everything Marcella thinks he is...

Niether is Anaiya,

And there's a secret about Marcella that she herself doesn't even know.

Only the Fae have all the answers, and they want their Changeling back.


So there you have it!  That's the working blurb for my new project, "The Cinder-Beast".  Please let me know what you think.  I'm having a lot of fun working on figuring out all the little details for it.  One of these days I'll have to find pictures of the characters to post.  I want to start working on a map too at some point.  I almost forgot how much fun new writing projects can be. :D

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Merlin's Blade" by Robert Treskillard -- A Review

Hello my blog friends!  I know I haven't posted in basically forever, and I apologize for that.  Since School got out (and even before that) a lot of stuff has happened and I haven't had a lot of extra time.  No excuse, I know... I wish I could write something every day, or at least once a week, but sometimes life just steps in the way and everything starts coming apart at the seams.  That's kind of how it's been lately.  No worries though!  I will be posting more soon!  I have a plethora of new ideas to blog about, and some pretty exciting happenings that are making my life a bit more than just interesting of late. :)  I'll tell you all about it soon. ^_^

In the meantime, however, I have a couple of Book Reviews to post! :)  They were both supposed to be posted last week, but as some of you undoubtedly know, Illinois has been swamped with bad weather lately, mostly in the form of unstoppable rains for weeks on end.  The fields have pretty much become swamp land, and the poor farmers are probably going to have to replant.  Some of them haven't even started planting yet because everything was too wet and muddy to do so... and the grass is getting overwhelmingly tall as well.  During the storms, there were power surges all over the place, and my internet wasn't working properly... it would come on and then suddenly turn off, and I was terribly worried about it and my computer during the whole thing.  I still got on occasionally, but every time I tried to put of the two reviews, the page would go offline, so I finally gave up and waited until the sun came out again. lol!  This review here was supposed to be a part of the CSFF Blog Tour, so there will be links at the bottom that lead to all the other blogs that decided to participate in the "Merlin's Blade" tour.  You should check them out!  :D

And now to begin.

When a meteorite crashes near a small village in fifth-century Britain, it brings with it a mysterious black stone that bewitches anyone who comes in contact with its glow---a power the druids hope to use to destroy King Uthur's kingdom, as well as the new Christian faith. The only person who seems immune is a young,

shy, half-blind swordsmith's son named Merlin.

As his family, village, and even the young Arthur, are placed in danger, Merlin must face his fears and his blindness to take hold of the role God ordained for him. But when he is surrounded by adversaries, armed only by a sword he helped forge, how will he save the girl he cherishes and rid Britain of this deadly evil ... without losing his life? 

My Thoughts:


Let me just say, this book was excellent.  And I do not say that lightly.  Robert has a way with words that just make them seem to float off the page and become flesh and blood.  This book read very real to me... not just because of the flow of words, but also because of the detailed research that was put into it.  Every aspect of the story, from the area of Bosventor, to the traditions of the Druids, to the process of forging a sword read and (more importantly) felt real.  

Something else I liked about this book: it's told from Merlin's point of view.  Now, I am a lover of all things Arthurian, and as a rule, I love the character of Merlin.  So little is known about him!  He has so much potential within the story realm that writers tend to love him.  However, until now I've never seen a book done where Merlin was a follower of Christ accept for in D. Barkley Briggs' "The legends of Karac Tor".  Yet Merlin's Blade even goes a step farther than that... because in Mr. Treskillard's book, not only is Merlin a follower of Christ, but he is also a young man around the age of 16 and 17 and has the same troubles that young men have -- like, for instance, impressing the young ladies.  And as if that weren't enough trouble to begin with, this version of Merlin is also half blind.

Things start going crazy in Merlin's home town of Bosventor when some mysterious druids show up toting along an ominous stone.  Merlin can't see the stone, but he can feel that there's something evil about it... and as the story progresses, we learn that Merlin's blindness -- his greatest weakness -- is also the only thing that is keeping him from becoming memorized with the power that the stone possesses.  As the rest of Merlin's town falls under the spell of the strange stone with the blue fire, Merlin starts to realize that the power of the stone corrupts through sight... and as he's half blind, he is the only one in his entire village that can stand strong against it.  And he really is the only one, because even the monks are susceptible to the stone's power.

Merlin alone is immune.

Of course, if those were the only problems Merlin had to face down in this book, the book would be exciting enough!  But oh no... of course there are more!  Merlin finds out that the leader of the druids is actually his step mother's father, and he also discovers that his father is being held under some kind of spell put on him by his step mother to wield control over him.  Then you have Natalenya... the beautiful daughter of the magister.  Merlin can't stop thinking about her, but she's in trouble along with everyone else in the village because she stands between her greedy father and the wealth that the stone promises.

And then there are the wolves.

When Merlin was young, he tried to save his little half sister from a hungry wolf pack.  His reward was the loss of his sight and an eternally scarred face.  That was years ago, but now the wolves are back, and they are more intent than ever to fill their maws with Merlin's blood.

Between all of that, and the visions that Merlin has started to have out of nowhere, he really has his hands full... and that's only before Uther Pendragon and his family show up with baby Arthur in tow.  

I loved this story from beginning to end. :)  And I was lucky, because not only have I just recently read the newly published version of the book, but I was also one of the few privileged readers who were allowed to read through the book while it was still in the revision stage.  I loved it then too, and consider myself extremely fortunate, especially since a few of my more favored scenes scenes have been revamped and edited out.

And then, wouldn't you believe it!  I got the surprise of my life when I got to the end of the published version of the book and saw my name in the acknowledgements!  Robert, if you are reading this, just know that you made my day!  Shoot!  You made my whole week!!! :D  I never expected that, and let me just say, it is such an honor to know you and your family.  God does work in the most amazing and mysterious ways. ^_^

This is a HIGHLY recommended read at the top of my list with five out of five stars. :)

If you would like to purchase a copy for yourself, please go here:

The author's blog:

Merlin's Blade Tour Participants:

Noah Arsenault
Beckie Burnham
Keanan Brand
Jeff Chapman
Laure Covert
Pauline Creeden
Emma or Audrey Engel
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Jojo Sutis
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower Phyllis Wheeler
Shane Werlinger
Nichole White