Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Revisiting Childhood Reads

Quintessential middle school historical fiction, "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" was a favorite for a lot of my generation. I'm a fan of all of Elizabeth George Speare's historical fiction, but it's been some time since I picked any of them up and I was interested to see how they would read from an adult perspective.

Overall I found it still the compelling and engrossing novel that captivated me as a pre-teen, yet I found myself wishing that there was a longer version, with more fleshed out characters. Although the cast is well developed for the short span of the book, it is a story and setting that certainly could have filled a larger volume. Characters like Uncle Matthew, Aunt Rachel, Mercy and Judith are skillfully drawn with short paragraphs, but cry out for more story time.

Perhaps most surprising to me was finding how little time in the book is really given to the romance. The true romance, that is. I'd always liked the ultimate pairings in the book, but somehow I'd forgotten how little time is really given to Nat and Kit's friendship. If I had to make one change to the book as it is, it would be to flesh out that dynamic a little more. It relies too heavily on the typical 'bickering couple' chemistry and thus doesn't actually show us much of what makes Nat and Kit work as a couple, only what makes them 'click' dynamically.

The other slightly changed perspective I had was realizing that this is a very similar time period to that of "Pirates of the Caribbean" and really, Kit has a lot in common with Elizabeth Swann. This gave me more appreciation for and understanding of the world Kit left behind in Barbados.

That said, it is an award-winning novel for a good reason, and I enjoyed the reread as an adult (even if it was much too short). I'll be happy to pass it along to my own kids for reading in the future.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Future of "The Song of the Fay" and my other writing projects.

I've been talking with a few people about the future of "The Song of the Fay" lately, and I realized there are a few non-spoilery bits of info I could pass on to my readers.

First off, it IS a series! I have four books planned, God willing, and then we'll see what comes next. Each book will star characters from the previous books, BUT they will not all have the same main characters. Furthermore, the will be told from third person POV (point of view), which allows me to have multiple POV characters without getting confusing. And, finally, although books 1 and 2 are both set in Paris, this is not an exclusively "Parisian" series, or even one that will be completely set in Europe.

Book 2 ("The Professor and the Siren") is, of course, a prequel (though meant to be read second in the series), and features the Morlands as POV characters. It is set about eight years prior to "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" and will include many of the magical Fay from that book, as well as introducing new characters and types of Fay. I am currently 60K into the second draft of the book, all of which has been written in the past 10 months. It is due to be a bit shorter than "Mermaid" so I am hoping to get it published on a much quicker timeframe.

Book 3 ("The Selkie and the Queen"), takes place directly after "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" in Scotland. It is currently written to be told from the POV of Kate, Derek, and one other character whom you'll meet pretty early on in the book. Abby and Pete, who were minor characters in "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" get much larger roles in this book, but not POVs. Although Daphne is back in the US at this point and thus not an 'onstage' character (so to speak), she is still friends with the main cast and will have some updates. I've written about 10K so far, and hope to get more done when "Professor" heads off to the beta readers.

Book 4 is developing into a plot I'm pretty excited about, but at this point in time I need to be pretty cagey about it. I haven't written any of it yet, but I'm developing the cast and setting in my head. As of today, I've only told three people the premise of the book, but they've been very positive about it.

At this point, I feel that God is asking me to write these books before moving on to any other projects, except possibly my first sewing book. I have part of a draft of a super-hero chick lit novel (first of a series) that I really hope to further develop and publish eventually, but I'm not sure when I'll get the Heavenly green-light on that. We'll see!

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Lord of the Rings (pt 1) - Revisiting Childhood Reads

I'm currently rereading "The Lord of the Rings" for the first time in a decade. (I basically overdosed on them in my teens by reading them at least half a dozen times in about four years plus various other Tolkien works and knew them far too well to read again until now).

As a youth, I was a speed reader, and this time I'm taking the series a bit slower. I'm also forcing myself to read everything--I'll admit that on a few past reads I would skip the parts I found creepy or boring (the barrel-wrights, a lot of Sam/Frodo/Gollum stuff). But this time I really want to refresh my memory on everything.

The Fellowship is perhaps the most difficult since it is the one I read the most and know the best. However, even for all of that knowing, there are still things that I'm 'rediscovering' anew. For instance, the movie versions became so predominant in my visual memory, that I forgot how Merry starts out as such a strong leader. Basically, whenever Merry is around, he's making as many or more decisions for the little group of hobbits than anyone else. In the film he is regulated to a prankster alongside Pippin, but in the book is is portrayed as a steadier, more capable character at the outset.

Another aspect of the book that strikes me in particular this time through is how, after each major brush with danger, the hobbits are given a chance to rest and recuperate. In our world of fast-paced action adventure series (fantasy or otherwise), we don't see this much anymore. But, in "The Lord of the Rings," Frodo and his crew are not given more than they can handle. They are pushed to their utter limits, which means that as they grow in strength, the rests become less frequent, but when rest is truly needed, it is always provided.

This reminds me of my own life. Jesus said that in this world we will have trouble, but he also promises to watch over our needs. My life over the past few years has been really, really hard, but God has provided me and Nathan with moments (and days!) of relaxation and joy amid the hardship.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

101 Dalmatians - Revisiting Childhood Reads

I am revisiting some well-loved books from my youth this month. Just got through a re-read of "The Silmarillion", sped through "Beauty" and just this afternoon got through a quick read of "The One Hundred and One Dalmatians."

While I have a whole separate post I'd like to do on "Beauty," I wanted to first take a moment to talk about "Dalmatians" while it is fresh in my mind. Most of us grew up on the Disney movie version, which is fun, but pales in comparison to the book. However, due to the over-saturation of Disney everything, most people aren't in the least aware that there is a book, much less that the book is so much better than the movie.

Dodie Smith, also known for writing "I Capture the Castle" (which, for one reason or the other, I've never managed to get my hands on), has a tremendous sense of story, narrative flow, charectarization, and a charming narrative voice, all of which contribute to make the book a classic. She's created a system for the world of dogs that nestles nicely into our own. The book is hilariously funny, with charming characters straight from the 1950's of London, and includes several memorable cast members that didn't make it into the movie. Most notably among these are the real Perdita (young foster mama Perdita and Missus Pongo are combined into one character in the movie), Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler (again, combined into one character), a gallant old Spaniel, and Cruella's cat. (Yep. Cruella has a cat.)

Book Cruella is sleeker and less physically psycho than movie Cruella, but no less insidious (indeed, I find smooth and elegant Cruella much creepier). She also has a husband, a little man whom she married for his occupation as a furrier, and an obsession with copiously peppering all of her food.

Although given first names in the film, the book calls Pongo and Missus's 'pet's Mr. and Mrs. Dearly, and Mr. Dearly is not a poor musician, but rather a canny accountant. Perhaps influenced by the film, I always viewed the Dearlys as being rather poorly, but not actually, that's not so true! Each of them retains their childhood nannies as their maid, and though things are related as being 'rather expensive' they are still affordable to the Dearlys. Mr. Dearly's sharp mind is echoed in that of his dog, Pongo, who proclaimed one of the smartest canines in England.

I think the true test of a classic is whether it can be equally enjoyed by both children and adults. As a child I borrowed my grandmother's copy so often that it came to have a permanent residence on my bookshelf! I was delighted to find that rereading it as an adult was no less enjoyable an experience. Even though I have read the book so often as to have memorized some of the lines, I still met each scene with a new sense of wonder, no matter how familiar.

And, of course, this was my first time reading the book since we brought Mateo home, which made it especially sweet!

So, please! If you've never picked up this book, and have any sort of affection for furry animals (dogs AND cats), do give it a try! Whether reading aloud to your children or pursuing for your own pleasure, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Death Comes to Pemberley

A quick look at my blog header should indicate that I am a Jane Austen fan. However, I'm not a purist who decries anyone who writes a 'sequel' to Austen -- only those who do it badly!

My first introduction to "Death Comes to Pemberley" was via the PBS special, and I found it dull and depressing. Hardly a recommendation to pick up the book! However, two weeks ago I found a copy in the clearance section of the used bookstore, and I was desperate for more reading material, so I said, "Why not?"

Turns out, the book is way better than the TV movie. (Surprise surprise.)

"Death Comes to Pemberley" is a sequel to "Pride and Prejudice" framed as a police procedural. In it, Darcy and Elizabeth are swept up in a murder mystery. Whereas the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mysteries gave a Nick-and-Nora banter to the Darcy's, this novel takes a slightly graver view. In doing so, it revisits a few aspects of the original novel that I never looked at too closely before, but nicely discusses and excuses the potential weaknesses it examines.

Most of the characters of the original novel receive at least cameos or mentions here (as do a few characters from other Austen novels), and I felt were sketched with appropriate justice. James has a solid understanding of Austen culture. The novel begins with a recap of "Pride and Prejudice" as it would have appeared to the populace of Meryton, which is both amusing and useful to the reader who hasn't picked up the original novel in awhile.

My single qualm with the book is that it features slightly less Elizabeth than I would prefer. However, it is a more balanced presentation than the TV movie (Which was even more Darcy heavy) and did a better job of making the other players more intriguing. Indeed, in reading the novel and seeing how much of it depends on inner thought life, I realized exactly why it was a difficult novel to adapt adequately to screen. The structure of the story does not lend itself to making the transition to screen in a satisfying way.

The mystery itself is perhaps not overly original, but it is interesting to see a murder investigation framed within the society and technology of the early 1800s.

James is not only a writer, but a professional in the world of crime solving, something which quickly becomes clear to the reader. I actually found myself thinking several times that I ought to get my husband to read the book. Although it will be enjoyed by female readers (and James is a woman, though using obscuring initials), there is definitely a feel to the novel that I think would appeal to a masculine reader, especially one who enjoys mysteries.

Conclusion: Skip the TV movie - or if you already saw it, push aside your recollections of it. Either way, pick up the novel. It's well worth the read, whether you're a die hard Austenite, a mystery junkie, or a lover of good period fiction.

For more Austen, click here!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

My Blessings You Do Not See

A friend of mine told me that he once asked a priest if it was difficult to hear the confessions of all the awful things people did.

"No," the priest replied. "It's hard to hear of all the good things they do, and not be able to tell anyone."

And, the thing is, this injunction not to brag about good deeds goes beyond the silence of the confessional. Matthew 6:3-4 says "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

Being ill has put a lot of strain on our family, in many ways, but we've been very blessed by a number of people who have given generously of their resources to us. I find myself really sympathizing with the priest -- I want the world to know how amazing these people in my life are! But at the same time, I know many of the people giving to us would not want their giving to be known -- even those with other belief systems are still doing it out of love, not a desire for recognition!

We live in a world that is very driven by outward appearances. Social media allows everyone to create a very public persona, and most people are aware that a lot of the messiness of life is deliberately hidden from these spotlights. But I think we forget how much of the goodness is hidden as well (or, at least in Christian doctrine, is supposed to be hidden). I love seeing stories about people helping out others, and I think it's encouraging to realize that there is far more generosity going on in the shadows than we'll ever know about in this life.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

An Author Learning from RPGs

One of the greatest challenges for authors is developing unique characters that speak with their own voice. Observation of the world is tremendously important for this, but recently I've realized how much I'm benefitting from another element in my life - my weekly role-playing game.

I've written extensively on the benefits of roleplaying games (rpgs) here, specifically in respects to social interaction and personal development. Lately, however, I've been observing how much it is enriching me as an author.

I strongly believe that reading other great authors is the best form of 'studying' a writer can do. However, the one weakness of this in regards to character development is that (most of the time) every character in a book is written by the same person. No matter how hard an author works at their craft, ultimately each character's motivations are being developed by the same mind.

In an rpg group, however, while you have a narrative story run by the game master, each character is developed and played by a different player. This adds an element of unpredictability and surprise that few other mediums offer. (Stage and screen have some of this, with actors contributing their thoughts, but ultimately the story is strongly run by the screenwriter and director).

The other benefit of the rpg group is that you can discuss character motivation and actions -- not only do I get to observe how different people play different characters reacting, but we also discuss (sometimes) why they did so. This has been a tremendous window into human nature.

A week ago, my character majorly ticked off another character in the game. Out of game, we all agreed on the action ahead of time because it would be so disruptive, and everyone thought it was an awesome narrative choice. In game, however, it was INTENSE. And then we had to wait a week for the real big drawn out fight to happen! I had several days to think through how my character would react... I knew, if I were writing the scene, how it would go. What I didn't know was how the other player was going to have their character react! It ended up being little like I expected, but tremendously true to the character as developed. As a result, I found myself re-analyzing (again) how different people of different personality types react to the same situation, and am thankful that the RPG group gives me the constant reminder of this!

Anyhow, it was a good incentive to re-dedicate myself to really developing distinct, believable characters.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Fall of Magic" - a Storytelling Game (Review)

Last night my husband and I had a game night with some friends, and we got to try out a storytelling game called "Fall of Magic." It was so fun, that I decided it was time to write up my first game review on the blog!

Game play involves a map that you unwind over the course of the story. Step one is putting together your character from a list of name and occupation/title prompts, followed by a quest with the Magnus to save the dying magic of the kingdom. Each nicely illustrated stop on the map has different scene prompts, and each person gets a chance to set a scene at the location. The rules are simple and contained in a small booklet, and there are only a few tokens and one die. There is no 'winning' or 'loosing', just having fun! You can play completely cooperatively, or develop characters with conflicting's up to you!

However, it's a beautifully rich set-up, and we found that two hours sped quickly by as we journeyed on our adventure to save magic! The game is structured just enough to let things run smoothly and form a loose framework for one's imagination to run wild. You can 'act' out your scenes, or narrate them as you choose. A great game for those who love writing, improv, or role-playing! Works as either a one-day game, or an on-going group activity.

While we got to play with the snazzy cloth scroll and metal tokens that our friend brought, there is also a much cheaper digital version for purchase.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Live Action Polaris - At last!

I woke up this morning to the news that one of my favorite mutants, Lorna Dane aka Polaris, is finally making into a live-action story, via Fox's new X-Men tv show.

Lorna is one of those mutants that the average Joe won't know, and yet has a major connection to one of the most famous mutants of all--she is Magneto's biological daughter. Half-sister to the more well-known Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, Lorna was raised by adoptive parents and her mutant identity was revealed at a rather later age than normal in the X-Men world. (There's a good reason for this, and a lot of other crazy story stuff, which you can read about over here.)

Although now canonically Magneto's daughter, this fact was disputed, refuted, proved, twisted, and proved again over the course of many years of comic writing. In the meantime, Lorna maintained a very long relationship with Alex Summers (Cyclop's younger brother), served on various hero teams, and even was involved in an intergalactic war, alongside the Inhumans and the Guardians.

(It's a bit crazy to me that I can now mention the Inhumans and most of my blog readers will recognize the term. The Shi'ar remain obscure, except for those who grew up on the old TV show.)

Also, once upon a time, I cosplayed Lorna.

Anyhow, she is my only favorite mutant to not yet be portrayed in live action. Granted, there are a lot of reasons to be worried about this, but my line has always been that the X-Men work far, far better as a TV series than a movie, and therefore I feel hopeful that we might get a better incarnation of Lorna than we did of my other favorites, Rogue and Gambit.

There are a lot of ways this could go wrong, but today I'm choosing to be excited and hopeful, because I like to live positively.

For more X-Men, visit my musings over at the Geek Portal.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Marking Milestones

I'm one of those people who gets pretty excited about birthdays--whether mine, or other peoples. (Okay, lately I've been overwhelmed with noting everyone's birthdays on Facebook...but I do love commemorating birthdays for close friends and family!). As I've gotten older, I've tried to lower my expectations for my own birthday, because, adult and all that. But I still really enjoy the sense of excitement and milestone that comes with it. My birthday was this Monday, and I had a really really nice, relaxing three days of celebrations with my dear ones.

Last year, I cried at my birthday. It had been a really rough year, and I was a the six month mark of being tremendously ill and severely physically limited. It was a milestone I didn't want to meet, as I faced the reality of so many lost dreams and a shadowy future. Even though we had just miraculously bought a house, I had been disappointed so often, I couldn't bring myself to have too much hope. I didn't want to dream too bright.

Thankfully (oh, SO thankfully!) this past year has proven to be so much better than I dared anticipate. While I still deal with debilitating health issues every single day, I have so much more joy and color in my life. Having a full house and yard instead of a tiny apartment that I was allergic too, experiencing the laughter and company of my dear puppy, growing my little towel business, and seeing my garden burst to life...these are perhaps small things in some ways, but to me they have been huge sources of joy.

And then, by the grace of God and support of talented friends and family, I pulled off the publication of my first novel this year. Although I was two years past my goal for first publication, I know that those extra two years were time I needed to grow in so many ways. It was a hard wait, but I feel immense satisfaction and peace at having achieved it!

I don't know what the next year brings. I don't know how much pain I'll be in tomorrow, or next week. But I didn't cry this year at my birthday--I was filled with gratitude and peace. And that is a little memory jewel I will tuck away in my chest of memories to pull out and remember on the hard days.

(And this year was also the warmest birthday I have ever experienced in MN. It actually rained. And my lilacs are budding. They normally don't bud until April at LEAST. Crazy.)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Valentine's Day and the "Song of the Fay."

I've been married for three years and have celebrated four Valentine's Days with my husband. However, prior to meeting Nathan, I never had a date on Valentine's Day, which made it a rather emotional holiday for me for a long time.

That said, I was tremendously blessed to have a father who was dedicated to making his wife and children feel cherished all year long. Valentine's Day was no exception, and he worked very, very had to do something special for us every year. One year we got our first DVD player on Valentine's Day! The year we were all obsessed with "The Lord of the Rings" he diligently tracked down our favorite characters in action figure form. I still have my Galadriel. And, the year I was down in Florida with my grandparents, he conspired with my grandfather to make sure there was a beautiful bouquet waiting for me when I got up in the morning.

So, even though there were a lot of years when I felt sad at being single, I look back and now feel tremendously blessed. It was much, much better for me to grow up feeling loved and cherished by my father, than to have a string of boyfriends prior to Nathan.

In "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" I created a main character who is quite different in personality than me--but her strong relationship with her father absolutely was inspired by my own relationship with my father. Although I did give her a Valentine's Day date (which was far more adventurous than any Valentine's Day I've ever experienced!), she, like me, is thankful for the blessing of having a steady father in her life. We both feel extremely blessed to have fathers who strive to follow the example of our heavenly Father.

I should note that I adore my mother and she's one of my strongest female role models. I just happen to be focusing on the strong Father-Daughter relationship in this book and post. However, in the next two books I'll be dealing with new characters, who have entirely different relationships with their parents. This, in turn, affects both their romantic relationships and their faith walk. For those of you who may have felt Daphne was a little too perfect and not relatable to your own journey...don't worry. We'll be having new adventures in "The Professor and the Siren" and "The Selkie and the Queen."

Now, as I noted on this blog earlier, since "The Professor and the Siren" is being expanded into a novel, it will not be released tomorrow (and probably not until 2018 at least). However, I still wanted to mark Valentine's Day, as my series centers strongly around the discovery and nature of sacrificial love, in all its forms. So, I'm marking the Kindle Version of "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" down to just 99 cents on Amazon for today and tomorrow. No coupon code necessary, just go to the Amazon page and you'll see the temporary markdown.

If you already own it on Kindle, and have been wanting to share it with friends, this would be a good time to gift it! Which, by the way, you can easily do on Amazon. Full instructions here.

(And, of course, if you already bought the paperback on Amazon, you can get the ebook for free. Or read it at no additional cost if you have Kindle Unlimited.)

The $.99 price will be good until the end of Tuesday, February 14th, 2017.

Not reading this post until the 15th or 16th? You can still get it at the reduced cost of $1.99 until the end of the 16th, when it will revert to $2.99.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

"The Professor and the Siren" details coming this weekend!

(Quote from "The Professor and the Siren" by Elizabeth Amy Hajek. May change slightly before print.)

I'm dropping some new details about "The Professor and the Siren" in my newsletter this weekend, as well as announcing a Valentine's Day sale on "The Mermaid and the Unicorn." Make sure you are signed up at my mailing list to get the scoop!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

"Powerless" premieres strong

In a world nearing oversaturation of superhero media, "Powerless" stood apart from it's first announcement. A show focusing on the collateral damage of super battles? Getting to see what happens to all the poor people with smashed windows, totaled cars and major chiropractor bills? It's a scenario long overdue--but one that would not have been able to succeed on a major network until we'd reached this point of superhero cultural awareness.

However, although greeted with interest initially (Especially with some awesome casting news), rumors and press releases about the retooling of the show caused some concern amongst the geek community. Were all the changes really for the better? Had NBC taken a golden premise and flushed it down the drain?

I wasn't able to watch the premiere episode when it aired on Thursday, but this morning my husband and I sat down and watched it through--and I couldn't stop laughing. This isn't just nerd comedy--I think anyone with a passing knowledge of superhero basics and a love of laugher should give this show a shot. While first episodes can be shaky, the "Powerless" premiere was solid, indeed I'd give it nine out of ten stars as a start to a series. If next week's episode can match this one, we are in for an awesome new treat.

That Alan Tudyk would be awesome was a no brainer, and of course "Community" fans will likely tune in for Danny Pudi. However I certainly was impressed with Vanessa Hudgen's comedy chops. She's playing the earnest straightman for the beginning, but to do that well takes talent, and she rises to the challenges beautifully. I'm not familiar with the supporting cast, but they seem like they'll fill out the talent nicely.

Is it family friendly? Difficult to gauge after just one episode. However there was just one off-color gag that I caught. In modern comedy terms, I think this show will land on the cleaner side, but of course families should probably preview a couple episodes before deciding whether it is appropriate for the younger ones.

And while I believe they are keeping the main superpowered elements of the show very generic, there are a few Easter eggs for comic book fans. It's worth going into the first episode with a reminder that no one knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman.

Only downside? It's a half hour comedy, and thus far too short. Can't wait to see what they bring to the table next week!

"Powerless" airs on Thursdays at 8:30 EST on NBC, available on Hulu for day-after viewing.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Take a Ride with Fibromyalgia (and Aspergers)

I have fibromyalgia and Aspergers.  Both are conditions that often come with extra-sensory issues, and I definitely have them in magnitude, particularly when I'm having a bad health day.

And this has been a bad health year.

Over the past 12 months, Nathan and I have come to realize that I cannot go anywhere more than about 20 miles away--there is just too much sensory overload, and by the time I get to where we are going, I'm too tired to really cope with all the issues at the actual event. This has been really hard, but thankfully most people in my life have been extremely accommodating of this issue. (So many friends and family have arranged to come to our house so that they could actually see me. It means the world.)

That said, even for those who love me, I know that it is difficult to understand how a simple car ride can be so overwhelming. So I decided to write up a blog post that will give you a look at the world through my eyes.

It starts before I even walk out of my house.

At home, I often wear the equivalence of pajamas all day, to save my body every possible bit of sensory overload. Going out means putting on outside-world acceptable clothing, which puts extra stresses and strains on my body. Some days it is more bearable than others, but if I am having a day where I am extra achy, just getting properly dressed can bring on a headache or stomachache.

(I know, right?)

Then I walk out to the car and buckle in to a pretty restricted position. At home, I am always switching it up, as one key to keeping fibro pain at bay has been not overstressing any muscles. I even try not to sit in my extremely comfortable chair for too long. I cannot sit on our regular dinning room table chairs - if we eat at the table or play a game, I have to sit on a special comfy office chair. Obviously our 20 year old car is not nearly as comfortable, and the seatbelt heavily restricts the positions I can take. This is the single biggest reason why I cannot ride more than 30 minutes at a time.

But there are other issues too. There's the vibration of the car. The noise of passing traffic. The smells that make it through the air system when we pass something really stinky. The changing lights. And above all, the constant barrage of changing visual images.

Everyone experiences these things all the time, of course (unless they are sensory deprived in an area), but Aspergers+Fibromyalgia heightens each sense. Most of us know that bright lights and loud noises can trigger headaches in people, but my tolerance is much, much lower than average, and it applies to every conceivable sensory issue.

Furthermore, we believe my fibro symptoms are in part triggered by skeletal issues, rising from the '3 accidents in 3 years' I experienced when I was 16-19. All three accidents occurred in bad weather and two of them resulted in months of health problems (one kept me in bed for about six weeks). This means that every single time some driver does something crazy, or we have to brake suddenly, or our car slips or slides for a moment, my body absolutely freaks out. Those of you who have been in traumatic accidents can probably relate to this feeling--and it doesn't help an already overloaded body at all! (We live in Minnesota. Bad weather car stuff goes on half the year.)

Finally, I'm deaf. I cannot listen to the radio in the car. I get nauseous trying to read. And while I can talk to the driver, it's extra taxing to lipread in the car, from the side, expecially from the right. So either I'm being strained and social, or bored and...bored.

So my body has to cope with all of these things before we ever get to our destination. Then I have to deal with the stresses there, (lipreading, social situations, food allergies, more sensory everything, especially when people have scented stuff in their house, etc), and once that is done, I have to go back through all of the driving stuff again. So, as you can imagine, keeping driving distance as short as possible is really important!

The weirdest thing is that healthy Elizabeth finds riding in the car peaceful. My parents used to find that one of the best ways to get me to go to sleep. Sometimes, when I have a migraine, I can weirdly feel better riding in the car than I do laying on my bed. Probably because I'm zoned out and on my way to help (the ER). But my body just can't tolerate everything about riding in the car enough for it to work well these days. If I want to enjoy the point of the outing (social times with loved ones, shopping) we have to keep driving to a minimum.

Once again, I am so thankful to everyone who has been accommodating of this. I hope this blog post was informative and helps clarify some of the issues! I really hope that as we continue to work on my health this will eventually not be such a big issue. I've already had to miss one wedding due to distance, and I see more in the future that will also be lost memories if matters don't improve. But I try to remain hopeful and optimistic. We keep making baby steps...

Monday, January 16, 2017

I Don't Want to Write this Tribute

I really don't want to have to write this tribute. I don't want Carrie Fisher to be dead. I don't want to face the realization that we will never see her Princess Leia on screen again.*

 *CGI doesn't count. And yes, at the time of writing this post, Episode 8 is not yet released so we have that to look forward to, but anything beyond that will not be Carrie's Leia.

I grew up loving princesses. Belle, Ariel, Pocahontas, Jasmine...these spunky heroines shaped my life in many ways. When I got older, I became captivated by real princesses in my obsession with English history.

But Leia stands in a place of her own. She was a spunky space princess who had intelligent, witty dialogue, was strong enough to do anything the boys did, but was also kind. empathetic, and diplomatic, winning the Ewoks to the Rebel cause by her own awesomeness (and the faithfulness of her golden protocol droid).

As a child, I always wanted more Leia. Finding a Leia action figure was my quest for the holy grail, and when I got her (and a Han to go with her!) she became one of my most treasured toys. I dressed as Leia for Halloween, played her in the first short film we ever made, and (in one of my favorite memories with my cousins EVER) got to BE Leia on the day when we re-enacted all three of the original Star Wars films. (I grew up as an only girl for a long time, which was really lonely except when we played Star Wars and I got to be Leia with no contest. Hurrah!)

I read a few of the novels, but none of them ever satisfied my desire for more Leia. My own adventures with my action figures were FAR more awesome. I'm really glad that I didn't discover "The Courtship of Princess Leia" until I was an adult and able to handle the awfulness of it, because it would have ruined a significant piece of my childhood if I'd consumed it at a younger age.

To this day, I remain passionate about only wanting Star Wars memorabilia with Leia on it, as a stand against my childhood when NOTHING had Leia on it. I refused to play the Star Wars Destiny game put out by my husband's company (Fantasy Flight Games) until he got me the Leia cards. While I adore many other characters in the films (Han Solo, Young Obi Wan, Padme's Dresses...), none of them comes close to the awesomeness that is LEIA.

When the new films were announced a few years ago, I tried to hold back my excitement. I knew Leia could not be the same pivotal role in this new trilogy - they would need to initiate a new cast with more longevity. But still - MORE LEIA!

Episode 7 brought some frustrations for longtime Leia fans - not enough screentime, and a sad ending to an epic romance. However, with Han getting a significant amount of screentime in this film, and Luke cued up to play a major role in VIII, I thought it highly likely that they were planning to give each of the original trilogy one 'focus' film, and Leia's was going to be IX.

The tragedy of Leia is that - unless she was due to die in VIII anyhow (as some have predicted) - we will never see her story played out on screen as planned. However it ends now, it will be different - likely a short tribute 'death', but also possibly a recast or (very remote but not impossible) a CGI recreation. Whatever it is, it will be a poignant reminder that Princess Leia was a remarkable character, played by a special and unique woman.

Which brings us to the other part of my tribute. As a child, it was Leia whom I knew, not Carrie. Even today, the loss of 'Leia' hits me harder, because it was that which played such a significant role in my own life. But Leia would not exist without Carrie, a real woman who is being deeply grieved by the family and friends who did know her.

However, while I never got to meet her in person or watch her one-woman show, I did enjoy her gift of writing. Someone told me to read "Wishful Drinking" and "Shockaholic" saying "no one else is writing about mental illness like this." And it's pretty true. Carrie is refreshingly honest, not afraid to laugh at herself, which is tremendously healing and encouraging (I struggle with depression alongside my other chronic illnesses). Ironically, I own "Postcards from the Edge" but have not yet read it. I've not yet been able to bring myself to buy "The Princess Diarist." I'm not ready to face the reality of it being Carrie's last book.

And I kept putting off this tribute, even though I knew that the longer I waited, the less relevant it would be and the more 'bandwagon' it would seem. I didn't want to face that she was gone.

But, regardless of these feelings, I owed it to her to write this. Leia was my princess, and I will be forever grateful to Carrie for bringing her to life so wonderfully and ironically.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Behind the Scenes - Thoughts on the Writing Process

Hello from 2017! It's been a bit of a hiatus on this blog over the holidays, and I thank you for your patience! Internet issues+new computer adjustments have put me behind on a lot of electronic obligations.

Today we are going to talk about writing, specifically by answering the following question I received today:

Hey Elizabeth!
I've been trying to finish writing at least ONE novel in my LIFETIME, and I'm finding it's hard to get motivated to sit down and write--especially when I get stuck.
I'd love to hear more about your process as a writer. How much of your process is planning, and how much is spontaneous? Do you always know what will happen next? Do you create a story first and then populate it with characters, or vice versa?
Anytime you can respond would be helpful, I'm just looking for some friendly advice and guidance  - Sharayah

Thank you for your question! Although I've written some on these subjects before, I figured it was worth doing again now that I have a properly published novel to my name!

First of all, a word of encouragement! I didn't get my novel published until I was 27 years old, and by a lot of standards, that is fairly young. However, since my personal goal was 25, I am still annoyed by this. (lol.)

Secondly, I would add that I wrote a TON before I got a novel completed. This includes numerous fan fictions (some reaching novel lengths), over a thousand blog posts, various short stories, and perhaps a dozen different novel beginnings. I also have a novel that I wrote twice (yes, two times), each of them hundreds of pages and MANY drafts. This novel will never be published in either of those forms (a common occurrence among authors, btw).

So all that said, be encouraged. You have plenty of time to get that novel done! Now, specifics!

The hardest part of being a writer is sitting down and typing the words.

I will go into more detail about some of your specific questions, but I cannot stress this first piece enough. No matter what your process, the single biggest obstacle for ANY writer is pushing past the initial "open word processor, type sentence."

Writing is, quite possibly, the easiest thing ever to procrastinate on. It is an entirely mental process, so you have to be fully engaged, and it is also extremely public. Even though you are writing in the privacy of your own home, the intent is usually to put those words out to the public, and any worries at all about how good your story is will put a cold freeze on your fingers! Reorganizing the bathroom looks a lot more appealing than risking public derision, right? Or, you know, writing another Facebook status...

(Admission - I am writing this blog post instead of my next novel this morning. However, I have been neglecting the blog and I really wanted to make sure I answered this question, so...)

Anyhow, the first tip to overcoming this is to remind yourself that no one is ever going to see these words unless you let them, and you probably have at least 3 rounds of revisions before that happens.

Award-winning comic book writer and illustrator Ben Hatke once told me of a recommendation he'd gotten to always end his day's work in the middle of a sentence. The benefit there is that you will always have something to immediately do when you open up your project. Personally, I write until I am too tired or know that my writing quality is about to take a dive, but more and more I find myself stopping mid-scene. (Can't resist finishing those sentences though. Slightly OCD there, I think.)

Another suggestion I've gotten and found to be extremely helpful, is to open your laptop and tell yourself that you only have to write for ten minutes. If at the end of ten minutes, you are still facing writer's block, you can close it down. However, if you are on a roll, there is NO STOPPING YOU! And most of the time, after ten minutes, I do find myself heartily engrossed in my project.

One year I made myself write first thing in the morning - before I even got out of bed, if I remember correctly. I got quite a good start on a novel that I hope will be one of my next projects after "The Song of the Fay." I dream of reinstituting that practice, but with a puppy in the house, that's no longer an option, since I have to get up and let him out, and once I get up myself, I need my own food first. However I'm still trying to force myself to get my writing done before anything else in the day.

For "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" I spent a lot of time in coffee shops. If I was going to spend $3 on a hot beverage, I had to 'earn' it with a few thousand words. However, once I stopped being able to drive or tolerate caffeine, this wasn't an option and I had to really buckle down and force myself to just WORK. (ugh). But it did get me through the first two drafts of the book, so it obviously worked!

How much of your process is planning, and how much is spontaneous?

Ah, the age old debate! Pantser or Plotter! I'm a mix - sorta, although I have become more of a plotter. I do find that my books work MUCH much better with a detailed plot synopsis from the beginning. (M&U's was about 8000 words). This is a huge deterrent to writer's block, because you always know where you are going. I do love the creativity of writing a scene and seeing what happens - BUT I usually find this leads to more doubt later on, and requiring more work in the form of rewrites, as your 'surprises' require changing more later on. (George RR Martin is a Pantser, which is part of why his books take so very long to finish writing).

Diana Gabaldon (Outlander) has an interesting process, where she writes 'scenes', each in their own file. This means that her books are not written chronologically, but 'sewn' together later on. I'm fascinated by this approach. Writing out of order annoys me terribly, but sometimes I have such a vivid image of a scene, that I need to write it down before I forget it. Having a full plot outline makes this a little easier (And less risky!) to do.

At the very least, I think it is important to have your endgame in mind - to know what you are writing towards.

Another tip to utilize - your first draft does not have to be 100k long. My first draft of "The Professor and the Siren" was just 40K at 2/3rds of the intended story. Now I am going back and adding more scenes, side plots, and character development to flesh it out into a novel-length manuscript. But it is relaxing to already have the major scenes and plot arcs written!

There are actually a ton of systems (And even software!) out there for plotting your book. I have tried several, but found that, honestly, I really like creating a list in WORD, and then adding and expanding as necessary.

Do you create a story first and then populate it with characters, or vice versa?

Depends on the story! I am a huge believer in really strong characters - and a good character will usually inspire a good story. Book #3 of "The Song of the Fay" came out of the character of Kate emerging in "The Mermaid and the Unicorn". I became fascinated by her, and she demanded that her story be told properly. So did the titular characters of "The Professor and the Siren", who are also secondary characters in "The Mermaid and the Unicorn."

However, "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" itself came out of a worldbuilding idea that was originally intended for another series for Chesterton Press. I asked to join that team, and to write something set in Europe. Specifically, "Mermaids and Unicorns in Paris." I was then given a side character from that series to develop, who became Daphne, and the requirements for her character directed what the character arc (and thus plot) needed to be for the book.

Mentally recalling my other projects, I'd say that generally the main idea comes first, then I develop who the main character(s) needs to be, which then refines the story perimeters.

One big requirement I have found I have is allowing my stories time to breathe. I did NaNoWriMo twice (won once) and 50,000K in one month is way WAY Too much for me - the end becomes absolute drivel. If I write more than 2K on a single project in a week, in generally is too much. I need to give my story time to stew in my brain. However, 2K a week turns into 100K a year, which is a really great way to write one first draft a year. This schedule changes once you get multiple projects going, of course, but that's not a bad thing. This past year I did the final revisions on "The Mermaid and the Unicorn," while writing half of the 40K of "The Professor and the Siren" while "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" was with Beta readers and editor! I also got 10K done on "The Selkie and the Queen" when I needed a break from "The Professor and the Siren." If I manage to keep that up, that translates to a new published book every two years, which is a really good schedule for a part-time author. (And most authors ARE part time, because very few novelists can actually consider support themselves by writing fulltime until they have at least ten decent-selling books out. And also, having enough creative juice to write fulltime is exhausting! I certainly can't do it!)

Brandon Sanderson, author of the "Mistborn" series, is a famously prolific fantasy writer, and often comes out with multiple books a year. He purposely switches between projects to keep his creative juices fresh, and it is a method which works very well for him.

(I DO recommend doing NaNo at least once, however, because it trains you to become a prolific and driven daily writer, but don't expect that first draft to be worth much!)

Okay, enough blogging! Time to take a break from the computer screen, then follow my own advice and get pounding the keys on the next novel!

For further writing tips, check out my page on Good Writing. If listening is more your style, I have gotten excellent recommendations for the free podcast "Writing Excuses."