Monday, December 8, 2014

Back to the Beginning

It's that time of year for me again. Happens every year, the time when I find myself thinking about what I've accomplished, and conversely what goals have not been reached. I've been writing since 2007, which I realize is, relative to many other writers, not a long time. And in that short time I've managed a certain level of success. Many short stories published in magazines and anthologies ranging from very small-time online-only indies to internationally-in-print like Chicken Soup for the Soul. Two novels published through a small press. Two self-published novelettes. I've been invited to speak and teach at several conferences and local workshops, as well as present at multiple writers' and artists' groups. Finding Angel made finalist in three contests, and now has 64 reviews on Amazon.

But I've also hit some major bumps in the road:

Being an "indie" author has meant I can't get books into bookstores. The only one that was willing to take my books on straight consignment was a small used curriculum store in our local homeschool resource center, and that bookstore has since closed. My area has exactly one independent bookstore that sells new books rather than used, and I had to pay a fee to have my books on consignment there. They did nothing to bring attention to the books, placing them spine-out amongst large-press YA novels, so I sold none and had to pick up my copies after six months.

I've tried making contact with local schools in order to speak, and for the most part have hit a wall. While I did manage to get invited to speak twice for the Great American Teach-in, I've yet to be able to go to a school for a true author visit.

I've participated in every author event I could get into locally, as well as renting space at craft fairs in order to sell books, and found that author events are generally not attended well, and those who attend usually want writing advice and are not there to buy books. Craft fair attendees all but run in the opposite direction when faced with a table of books for the most part.

I still find online marketing to be frustrating and impossible to figure out. I've taken classes on it, picked the brains of fellow authors, read innumerable articles...and am more confused than ever.

So, what is my point?

The fact is, all of the above negative issues have been sucking the joy of writing right out of me, and I need to decide what to keep going with, and what to let go.

The first to go will be craft fairs. They're too expensive to participate in, too time-consuming, and have been completely un-profitable.

Next, I will stop stressing over the places I can't get into right now. Bookstores are closing left and right, and the ones that are still around are so filled with non-book junk. Also, the authors I know locally, both small press and large, who have done signings all say they're not worth the time. The latest story I heard was from a friend who wrote the most awesome children's book. She had a signing at B&N, where they'd advertised and set up a beautiful area for her to sell books in the children's section. She sold not one single book because all the moms and little kids were in the TOY section. As for schools--if they don't want me, then fine. I'll do what I should have been doing all along and focus on my fellow homeschoolers. I intend to find homeschool conferences to participate in, and teach creative writing locally.

Speaking of teaching--I've found that I really enjoy teaching about writing at writers groups, conferences and workshops. More of that in the future.

Ah, but that's all book-selling and marketing, or at least platform building. What about my writing?

Well, yes, that's the point. If I can get rid of all the distractions and stresses, maybe I can get back to my roots and spend more time with my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. The thing is, my focus there will be different too...

I know that indie authorship is on the rise. And there are some benefits to it. But it's simply not working for me. I need help with marketing, but no, I can't just run out and hire someone. I'm finding that all the stuff indies keep telling me about how publishers never help with this...totally bogus. The authors I know who have bigger publishers have people who set up events for them. They also have the creds to get into more places as speakers. Unless an indie is a HUGE self-made success, we're simply not taken seriously. Sorry, that's been my experience, and I simply want more.

So, I"m starting over. I'm going back to the beginning, working on manuscripts that can be shopped to agents. Yes, this means that Toch Island 3 and all related stories will be put on the back burner. Of course Toch Island is the most precious thing to my heart, but to add more to an already nearly unknown series seems fruitless to me. Harsh? Maybe. But you're not the one taking time from MY kids and husband in order to make NO money. HUGE gratitude goes out to all the fans of Toch Island--more than you can possibly know--but until sales increase I have to put my family first.

I also want to get back into short story writing so I can get work out there in the meantime. I loved writing short stories, and frankly loved selling them to markets, and I think I need more of that again to stoke the writing fire for me.

Overall, I need to go back to the way things were at the beginning, back when I was writing and loving it, back when I had hope of someday being a success at this, back when I wasn't distracted and dismayed by all the weight carried by an indie author. Back to the beginning.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sewing and Sharing

Ah, my once-monthly blog post, which I keep promising will come more frequently. Sorry yet again. Busy-busy. Homeschooling, camping, and other projects...like this cloak I sewed:


Which took LOTS of fabric and many days to make.


Anyway, since I have little news to share about myself despite my hectic schedule, I'll share about some fellow authors:

Mike Duran's newest just hit Amazon yesterday. I got to beta-read The Ghost Box and totally adored it. It's urban fantasy and had great characters and a cool plot with lots of weirdness. 



Jeff Chapman's latest short story Last Request: A Victorian Gothic is now available as an audiobook. I simply love his writing. Dark, atmospheric. And this story does not disappoint.



Lastly, the faculty for the 2015 REALM MAKERS conference has been announced! A great line-up. I won't teaching this year, but I do plan to attend, and there are some sessions I'm very much looking forward to! Check it out, and make sure you follow the Faith and Fantasy Alliance blog so you can stay updated about the conference.



Friday, October 17, 2014

Christian Horror Blog Radio Interview

This week I got to chat with Carla Hoch on Blog Talk Radio. We discussed the Horror genre in Christian Fiction. I had a blast. This is my third interview on here, with Carla, and I always have such fun talking with her.

Check it out, share the link!


Check Out Books Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Red River Radio on BlogTalkRadio

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Month of Busy

An entire month since I've posted. Yep. But I've been ridiculously busy. Want proof? Just visit my Facebook page and check out my photo albums (links below).

In September, the family went to the new Diagon Alley section of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Well, we didn't go just to that section--we went to the whole theme park (both theme parks, technically)--but our main motivation for the trip was to see Diagon Alley.

A couple of teaser pics:




Anyway, CLICK HERE for the full photo album.

And then just a couple of weeks later, I attended the Necronomicon in Tampa.

I was there, as I have been for the past few years, as a guest author:



And of course there were costumes....

This one was my favorite (and apparently everyone else's, as he won the costume contest):



For more pics of the Necro, CLICK HERE

So, yes, busy. And that doesn't count all the homeschooling I've had to squeeze in-between!

Monday, September 8, 2014

I'll Be At the Necronomicon in a Few Weeks!

The Necronomicon is a sci-fi/fantasy/horror/gaming convention that has been going on for over 30 years in the Tampa Bay area. I’ve been there every year for about the past seven years. This year, I’ll be doing several writing panels, and you’ll find me wandering about the whole rest of the weekend. I’ll have books for sale (although I won’t have a table because they sold out in about two minutes this year). 
Here is the info on the con, and a list of the panels I’ll be on. This will be a new experience for me--I've never hosted panels before and it looks like this year I'm hosting two! 
If you're in the Tampa, FL, area, come visit me! Registration is $35 (includes all three days) through Sept. 24, then jumps to $50. They can only hit 900 this year due to space limitations, so register now online--link below:
Necronomicon 2014
October 3-5, 2014

Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay
2900 Bayport Drive
Tampa, Florida, USA, 33607

Guest of honor: Eric Flint

Check out the NEW Necronomicon site for information and registration! 

My Panel Schedule:

Friday 3:00 PM --  Using Real History as a Basis for Your Fiction
Friday 5:00 PM --  What You Need to Know about Writing YA Fiction
Saturday 10:00 AM  -- Making Words Work for You
Saturday 1:00 PM --  How to Handle Those Pesky Adjectives (Host)
Saturday 4:00 PM --  The Scoop on Small Presses: for Writers (Host)
Saturday 7:00 PM --  Getting Your Book from Print to Audio

Anyway, I can't believe this is LESS THAN A MONTH AWAY!!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Writing Process Blog Hop

Last week I was tagged by Jill Domschot (author of the literary fantasy novel, Anna and the Dragon) to do this Writing Process Blog Hop. I actually kinda volunteered to be tagged, and yet I completely dropped the ball on getting the post ready on time. Starting back homeschooling full-force and preparing for a speaking engagement pretty much took all my free time last week and weekend. Well, except for the several hours I spent writing on Saturday thanks to my wonderful husband getting the Beasties out of the house. So yeah, quiet house and Work in Progress won over blog post. Deal.

Anyway, now to the post, which I've finally written :).

1. What am I working on?

This seems like it should be an easy question. It's not. I'm technically working on four different projects:

The first is, of course, Book 3 of the Toch Island Chronicles (that's my YA fantasy series that includes Finding Angel and Seeking Unseen if you are new to my blog).

The second is a prequel, sorta, for the series. It's the story of the mystery villain in Finding Angel and how he became a baddie. If you've read Finding Angel, you know why I'm not saying any more than that. If you haven't, well, sorry sweetie, but spoilers.

Project three, sticking with YA, is a ghost story. A young girl, Amelia, is staying in a small town with her father, a land developer with some big plans. The town locals are...scared. They don't like what Amelia's dad is doing. Mainly because they don't want to tick off the ghost that supposedly haunts the bridge on the edge of town.

Project four is my first full-length non-YA work. I've written some short stories that aren't YA, but never a full novel. However....I did discover, thanks to the awesome comments of one of my critique partners, that the book is not as far into the adult genre as I thought. I guess I can't help but write younger characters, so this one would likely fall into the New Adult category. In lieu of writing a summary, I'll give you a sneak peek at the query letter in progress that goes with this manuscript:

Simone found out at the age of 19 that she was half angel. And of course he had to be the one who told her—the demon, Wraith. The only one who was ever truthful enough with her to admit his words were mostly lies. 
She trusted him when he told her about her mother, the angel, who had selfishly given up Simone to return to Heaven.  She trusted him when he advised her to give up her own daughter out of selflessness—“They will grow old and die while you remain young.” And after years of searching for her daughter, she trusted him again when he claimed to have found her. 
Now the balance between angel and human in her has shifted. Can she trust Wraith one more time to lead her to the salvation he has been keeping from her for years?


2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Hm. For my Toch Island Chronicles series I'd say it's because my magic is very science-based, and my novels are in that spot right on the edge of YA (young adult) and middle grade. Most YA out there these days is paranormal fiction. Mine is more about the fantasy and magic. The books, at least the two so far, are also mysteries.

My ghost story isn't close enough to being finished for me to really know how it differs from others. Again, though, it's right on that edge between middle grade and YA. Again, more mystery. And all I can really say other than that is, I've read a lot--a lot-- of YA and middle grade books and haven't come across one like this one.

The fourth project is different because most books in this genre--New Adult, paranormal--are completely romance-based. And while this one is, as much as I hate to admit it, a romance, that's not the heart of the story. At all. I really don't know how to explain the difference. Let's just say, I'm writing it the way I, a non-romance reader, would want the story told.


3. Why do I write what I do?

Because it is what I read. What I have always read. Books about ordinary (but usually a little nerdy) kids who discover they are magic. Books about other worlds. Magical creatures. Mysteries. Scary stories. Books that struggle with dark themes. Those are what draw me to reading, so they are naturally what I write.


4. How does my writing process work?

That question assumes that it does work! :P Seriously, I have no real process. Every book I've written so far has been different. With Finding Angel, I spent nearly every waking hour writing, or plotting, typing, typing, typing, over the course of only three months. I wrote the scenes way out of order. I went through so many layers of editing for many, many months years after that. . But Seeking Unseen came out mostly in order, with the writing coming in slow bits and pieces, then the editing all slammed in at the end. I'd learned so much from writing Finding Angel and all the short stories I'd written, so the initial draft, while it took longer, came out much cleaner.

The rest of the projects are coming out differently still. Working on them essentially simultaneously means going back and forth. This one for a while (so many pages or words until I run out of motivation), then that one for a while...all squeezing it into an already busy schedule of homeschooling and, well, just being a wife and mom. Marketing has to be added to the mix, too, and teaching at conferences and such. I don't feel like I have a "process" these days. More like, take what I can get when I can get it--whether that be time to write or brainstorming for ideas--and take it in whatever order I get it.

OK, soooo......there it is. I've finally kept my promise. Only two days late--not so bad, really. However, because I was such a slacker I didn't find anyone to tag to keep the blog hop going. So, if you're a writer, and want to participate, feel free. Just make sure you list me and my website in the intro!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Tampa Bay Comic Con 2014

Just a quick post to share a few pics from our adventure at the 2014 Tampa Bay Comic Con! This was our first year attending, and we had a BLAST.

It started off with a ridiculously long line:


That was only a tiny taste of the number of people on the sidewalk...way, way down from where the actual event was....

But even standing in line can be fun with friends:


That's Beastie 2 and her buddy. Notice the waters--those were SO necessary. It was freaking hot outside! I was blown away by how many people stood in this line in this heat in full costume. At least Beastie's was cool. BTW, notice that it is classic Wonder Woman. A vendor actually gave her a free WW flashlight because he thought that was so cool of her :).

Beastie 1 wore just the basics in line, then when we got inside we finished suiting him up:


He was so worried about that costume. Would it be good enough? Would anyone know who he was? Well, judging by the number of people who asked for his picture, I'd say those questions got answered.

Speaking of pictures, this is one of Beastie 1's friends who couldn't take five steps without being asked for photos:


His dad worked about 5-6 hours every day, for over a month on this costume. It was awesome. The front opened up with the push of a button, and there was a voice box inside, and fans to keep him cool.

Here's the whole group of boys we went with:



From left to right, that would be Pit from Kid Icarus, Soundwave, Megaman, and Link from Legend of Zelda.

Yes, there were actually other people there and I did take pics--if you want to see them all, check out my Facebook album. (It's public, so if you're not on FB or we're not friends there, you can still see it.)

So, now....time to figure out what we're going to be next time!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Six Weeks Since My Last Post! What on Earth Have I Been Doing?

I probably  ought to be totally ashamed that it's been like six weeks since I blogged. I've never gone that long before, but I honestly and truly had nothing to write about. I've of course been spending some of that time working on writing projects.

Much more of it in the last few weeks, though, working on costumes for the Beasties for the upcoming Tampa Comic Con. Beastie 1 is going as Link from The Legend of Zelda and Beastie 2 is going as classic Wonder Woman. I feel like I've been through every store in my entire town looking for the right clothing articles and materials for making swords and adding details to outfits....Way more work than I expected!

This is Beastie 1 and the sword we both worked on. I mainly did the sheath, he mainly did the pommel. It's a premade wooden sword underneath. Lost of craft foam and duct tape used to transform it! Still working on adding the details to his costume. I'm enjoying the leather work the most....

BTW, it's not just the perspective...he really is taller than that 6-foot high armoire...

This was one of the hardest parts! Beastie 2's top. Finding the right top in the first place was a near nightmare, and then figuring out how to get that gold design. I finally found some iron-on gold transfer sheets at JoAnn Fabric that you can cut into any shape you need. This is actually two sheets, which I pinned face to face and cut out using a pattern I drew myself of half the design, then opened it up, making it perfectly symmetrical. Thank God the iron-on stuff worked well with stretchy fabric!


We used the same kind of iron transfer to make white stars for the blue shorts she'll be wearing. And gold craft foam worked perfectly for making the headband, wrist cuffs, and belt.

I promise I'll post pictures of them both in full costume after the event!

Speaking of events, I spent Saturday selling books at a local craft fair.


Yep, that's me, at a church event wearing a shirt that says, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." :D (And in keeping with the Harry Potter theme, I bought a pair of Golden Snitch earrings from another vendor.)

The weekend before, the family went to the beach (Anna Maria Island) for a few days. Lots of sun, but not too much thanks to my father-in-law thinking to bring a canopy. We had an awesome huge, open patio outside our room where we set it up, and where I spent most of my time. This was our view:

Looking straight out from the patio.
Looking to the right.
We saw some cool wildlife while we were there, too:

Beastie 1 found a live starfish. 

This guy (osprey) flew out ever evening at dusk and dawn.
Before that in reverse order...birthday weekend, Fourth of July, sports camp VBS with me helping out in the cheer leading class and coming home completely whipped every night.

Okay, so maybe I could have squeezed in a blog post somewhere in there, but every moment of downtime I've had I've spent either reading or watching movies....Harry Potter marathon this week. Finished up last night. Beastie 1 commented whilst watching the Deathly Hallows part 2, "Mom, I can't believe after all this time you still cry during this movie." My reply: "Always."

Anyway, that brings us to now. Hope ya can forgive me. And hopefully I'll have more to say much sooner this time!




Tuesday, June 17, 2014

God is Not My Audience

Phenomenal cosmic power...
itty bitty audience?
Being involved in Christian writers circles, I've heard over and over, "Write for an audience of One." It can come in variations, but that's the gist. Write what you believe God wants you to write and don't worry if no one else ever sees it. You're doing it for Him, not them.

I could never understand what bothered me so much about the saying. Maybe it was because it seems as though you are writing for God's entertainment. Like, some cosmic bedtime story just for Him--as if He's bored with taking care of the universe and trying to bring His children home, and needs you making up imaginary people that go around having conversions for His escapism. (Does God need to be presented with the Gospel?) Or it's simply obedience--Write what He says to write, and don't worry about it ever getting published or seeing the eyes of other readers. It's just an exercise in you Doing What You're Told. Cosmic busywork.

Yeah, I know, those comments probably ruffle some feathers. It can be argued that writing a story "for" God is like singing to him in worship (of course you may want to read my post here about that before continuing). And obedience is something the Bible commands. We don't always know why we're told to do something. Dip in the river seven times? Walk around the walls blowing horns? Ludicrous. But God sees the big picture. And working on your manuscript may be something in and of itself--a way for God to refine you, to make you think, to give you patience, etc. The end result is not necessarily what you think it will be.

But none of those things makes God my audience. I'm not a performer putting on a show for Him--I'm a person forging a relationship with Him. I'm not trying to wow him with my cleverness, or get Him to gasp over the twist ending I came up with. What I am trying to do is open my heart and soul to Him, to express my awe, to ponder his Creation, to connect with Him.

But the question is--does that mean the end result is just between me and Him? Is the ultimate goal a private conversation, or one others are supposed to overhear, and maybe learn from, maybe discover a new connection with God of their own? And how much am I supposed to consider those readers when I'm writing?

How's this for timing--I started this blog post yesterday. Today, right before I dived back in, I read today's post on Speculative Faith: "Biblical Discernment: The Glory Rule." Basically, if you are supposed to glorify God in everything you do, how does that translate to what you write (and read)?

I think in many ways, this is the same issue I've addressed. What does it mean to glorify God in your writing, and how much of that is directed at an "audience"? My belief on this is that it's different for every person. That we each meet God in a different way, unique to our personalities and experiences--but the key is, again, we are meeting Him, not performing for Him. He is not my audience. He is the one with whom I'm connecting in order to write a story that is going to reach an audience.

When I write, though, am I thinking of them? Yes. But I'm not writing just to please them. I'm writing what comes out of my connection with God. I'm writing the result of opening up my heart and soul to Him, not what comes out of seeing God as an audience of One, and the rest of the world as incidental.

I do, in fact, believe God uses my writing for me--which is what inspired this post. My Sunday school teacher was talking about how preparing lessons for the class benefits him by making him get into the Bible more deeply. My writing does the same for me--it makes me step closer to God, makes me read the Bible more so I can find that connection I so need in order to write.

But I'm not writing specifically directed at me, or at God. I'm writing knowing that someday an outside audience is going to read my words, and see my story, and hopefully find that connection I've forged with God through the process. And I believe that God wants that. My readers are my audience, and the show I put on for them is a story based in a very real connection between me and God. God is a very real part of the story--He is not my audience.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Realm Makers 2014 - Riding the Conference High

I probably should be using the time I have this morning to work on an actual writing project. But I figure I better get this post out while I'm still on "conference high." Yes, I think that is a real thing, and yes, I think it is a good thing, too. If you can take that high and transfer it into motivation before letting yourself crash.

So, let me start where I left off last time. I said I was going to wear my Captain America shirt the first day, and I was true to my word:

The Avengers got nothin' on us, baby!
There is nothing like being greeted by amazing friends, both new and old.

Especially at a venue that looks like this:



We started off with a critique party on Thursday night. Then moved into an amazing opening Keynote speech by Tosca Lee. (Whom I took about five picture with, but none of them came out. I. Could. Just. Cry.)


There were sessions on topics like magic, horror, world-building, the psychology of war, villains, and Steampunk....



Oh, and some stuff about writing, too ;).

But speaking of Steampunk...the costume party was nearly taken over with this genre!


Not that there weren't plenty of other genres represented:

Fantasy!!

Science fiction!

Horror!
OK, I know, I know...hardly a word in this post. But you know what they say about pictures...

Which, btw, if you're interested in seeing some more, you can check out my Realm Makers 2014 photo album on Facebook.

And if you are at all interested in joining us next year, follow Realm Makers on Facebook, and/or the Faith & Fantasy Alliance blog. There will, absolutely, positively be another Realm Makers conference next year! Now...time to figure out my costume...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Packing for Realm Makers (Or, The Geeky Stuff I Take to Cons)

Because I tend to be one of those people who panics over packing for trips--you know, the list-making, list-checking, worrying-she'll-forget-something, packing-and-re-packing kind of person--I decided I needed to try and make my packing for Realm Makers a little bit funner.

Yes, funner is a word. Here is the picture I took of the entry in my 1997 Webster's American Dictionary, College Edition:


Anyway...

Some of the geeky things going with me to Realm Makers include, but are not limited to:

The wand I'll be carrying as part of my costume. If you aren't following me on Facebook, I'm dressing as Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter. Yes, I realize this doesn't actually look like her wand, but I don't care. I made this one myself and I like it :P.


This is a writers conference, so of course I'll need something for scribbling things down. This is my dressed up with snakeskin duct tape notebook. Tucked in the spiral is one of the many pens my husband has brought home for me from his enginerd engineering conventions. Enginerds Engineers always have the best pens at their cons.


This is the Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock tote bag I won at the Necronomicon a few years ago. It is now my official con bag. The perfect size, with the perfect length handles and a little zippy-pocket inside. On it are three pins: NAF (New Authors Fellowship, a group blog for which I'm an alumni), Splickety Magazine, and and International Fleet pin from Ender's Game. (Sorry, that last one is hidden by the NAF button, but trust me, it's there.)


In the above bag you'll find these babies. My phone, with a JRR Tolkien sticker on the back (which came with the Smaug sticker I ordered for my truck). And a container of Cthulhu mints. Well, the container anyway--the mints I trashed and replaced with my favorite all-natural gum.


Lastly, something that I'm not technically packing. For ya'll who'll be attending Realm Makers, keep an eye out for me tomorrow. You'll find me in this shirt!


OK, I think I may actually be ready! Wish me luck! (And luck to the husband, who'll be stuck at home with the Beasties all weekend without me...mwahahahahaha....)



Tuesday, May 27, 2014

An Essay on Kalek from Toch Island Chronicles and Why. He. Rocks.

I've tried to draw Kalek, to no avail.
This is the closest image I've ever found, too.
His hair is really curly, though,
so even this is not right, but gives ya an idea.
(And of course Kalek has pointy ears.)
I've never posted something like this before. When I start ruminating about my characters and where they come from and what drives them, I tend to transform it all into a short story. (Or as is the case for one character in particular, a long story that may actually end up a prequel to Toch Island some day....)

But in this case, I've already written a short story about Kalek, my Elven rocker who first makes his appearance in Finding Angel. If you haven't read the book (or maybe just need a refresher), you can go to Grace Bridges' blog and read the excerpt from the very first scene I wrote about Kalek. Grace basically told me that this scene is what sold her on my manuscript :).

First, let me backtrack and tell you what spawned this post, although it's actually kinda hard to put my finger on something particular. More like little things said here and there, in sermons at church, in an email from an author whose work I judged in a contest last year, arguments online (and closer to home) about what music ministry in church ought to be, and in some other places that I can't fully remember right now but feel like bits of dreams. ...

All of it points toward one question: What is worship?

My novels are not overtly Christian, but Kalek is probably the biggest representation of faith in the series. He's a rocker--long hair and tattoos, rebellious and passionate, the kind of guy who experiences the highest highs and the lowest lows and has to vent all of it through his music. But Kalek's Talent takes that to another level. He's able to tap into nature and do what I call "sing the songs of the stars."

Kalek's Talent was inspired by this Bible verse:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech ;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
(Psalm 19: 1-4, NIV)
I'm also gonna come clean about something here that no one--I mean no one--has ever seemed to notice about the passage where Kalek uses his Talent in Finding Angel....I stole it all from the book of Job. Seriously, start at Job 38:39 and just read, you'll see.

The way those things are connected is the heart of my post here. Music is often seen as the definition of worship. We call the music leaders at church "worship leaders" and we call that part of the service the "worship" part and it seems only in private circles do those of us come out and say that they worship in ways other than singing. It is my personal belief that people can worship through any creative outlet--be it writing or drawing or sculpting or landscaping or architecture....anything that allows you to express yourself to God. I also think more ordinary acts can be just as worshipful, such as running or caring for pets, or, again, anything that allows you to express yourself to God.

For me, worship can be writing and drawing, but the truth is, the real connection, the place where I find the most awe for God is science. Looking out into space at the stars, yes, but even more so looking in at the creation here on earth. Animals and their intricate and perfectly balanced biological systems. The way a bird makes its nest, or a spider weaves its web. The incredible variety of beetles in mind-boggling designs and made with metallic exoskeletons. The egg of an insect.

The above photo is of an insect egg from a gallery
produced by 
National Geographic Magazine
that accompanies an essay written by 
Rob Dunn,
an assistant professor of biology at NC State.
When I look at things like that in the world, I can't help but find my faith bolstered. I can't help but feel my doubts drop away. I can't help but want to express my love and awe for the One who designed all this.

So, Kalek is my representation of that. I mean, yes, you see it elsewhere in the book of course, with all the science stuff going on. But Kalek is the place where science and passion intersect, the place where it gets expressed as worship.

Maybe that's why he's my favorite character in the whole series.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

One Week Until Realm Makers!

In exactly one week I'll be heading up to Villanova University in Philadelphia for the Realm Makers writers conference. My experience last year was phenomenal, and it looks like this year will be even better. I know I've posted snippets here before about Realm Makers, so I'm going to keep this short and sweet.

I'm excited about the conference because:

  • Tosca Lee is the Keynote Speaker. If you haven't read her fiction, you're missing out! (I really am hoping I don't make a fan-girl fool of myself when I meet her...)

  • The writing sessions look to be very interesting again this year, and there are even more of them this time! The official schedule hasn't been posted, but since I'm faculty I've gotten wind of some cool topics, including...

  • The sessions I'm teaching! I'll be teaching about writing for the YA market as a session on my own. I'm teaming up with Andrew Winch from Splickety Magazine to teach a session on science in fantasy writing. And I'll be participating on a panel about magic in fiction with several other authors. 

  • There will be a costume dinner again this year. Last year I dressed as River Song from Doctor Who. This year, I decided to go British again, but fantasy instead of sci-fi. If all goes as planned I'll look something like this:


Yep, Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter. I've even got the crystal ball :). I will, of course, post pictures when I get back, and ya'll can tell me if I pulled it off!

I can't believe this is all one week away!!!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Can You Hear Me Now? Realm Makers Blog Radio Interview on Red River Radio

I have done my very first ever blog radio interview! Yep, on Red River Radio, along with a few other Realm Makers guests, including the keynote speaker and amazing author Tosca Lee, and author and former owner of Marcher Lord Press Jeff Gerke. (Me, interviewed right after them! I was so nervous!)

Check out the archive HERE. You really ought to listen to the whole thing, but if you're short on time and just want to check out my part, it starts right around 45:37.

Wow.

And for more info on Realm Makers, which is coming in JUST THREE WEEKS, visit the official Realm Makers website.

PS--I mention a blog post during the interview. It was a guest post on Mike Duran's blog, and if you'd like to read it click HERE.

And, to finish with a "kick"....Finding Angel was part of a photo shoot done by Jeanie Hunt of Shutterbug Photography in Newport, TN. I thought this was really fun:



No, that's not my boot :P. 


Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review: Jinx by Sage Blackwood

Because it's been waaaaaayyyyyy too long since I've blogged, and I seriously just have not had much to say. My life has been busy-busy with homeschooling and holidays and birthdays. So, I'm sharing this short review about a book I loved, and am now reading the sequel:

(My review as posted on Goodreads.)

This is MG fiction. Fun, well-written, fast-pasted without skimping on story and character development. The writing voice really captured me as well. Told with a fairy tale flavor, it had me smiling in so many places. There are dark bits, of course, as any good fairy tale has, but they're not told in gruesome detail.

The story world has a lot of familiar tropes--witches, wizards, werewolves, etc.--but all handled in unique ways. The magic system is really cool, as are Jinx's particular abilities. I totally connected to Jinx and LOVED Simon the wizard--and the way the author shows the good and bad in all the characters impressed me.

Love the cover art, too!

Goodreads link HERE

As I mentioned, I'm reading the sequel, Jinx's Magic.

If your looking for good middle grade fantasy, seriously, get this series. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Marketing--What Do You Mean by That?

Marketing has been on my mind a lot lately, not in the least because I posted on Facebook about my aversion to it and was immediately jumped on lectured by two authors who feel very strongly about marketing. I ended up pulling my post because of the context and the fact that I didn't want to have a face-off on my FB wall. The reason I'm sharing, though, is because it is this incident that got my thoughts going regarding this blog post.

Marketing. It's starting to make me think of the quote we all know from The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."


:D

OK, I am by no means a marketing expert. I'm barely a marketing amateur. But I'm an observer, and I've noticed that the definition of the word has grown by leaps and bounds in the world of authors. It now includes everything from our blogs and Facebook pages, to book signings and school visits, to press releases and newspaper interviews, to bookmarks and free online samples... There's also advertising and getting professional reviews. I'd even lump paying for bookstore shelf space (and Amazon newsletter space) in there, and cover art and title choice...and a whole slew of other things.

My point being: When an indie author is asked questions like, "When you hear the word 'marketing,' how does that make you feel?" as was asked on the Realm Makers Facebook page yesterday, the answer tends to be something along the lines of, "Like I've got a freight train heading straight at me." Each one of the cars of the train is filled with those things I mentioned in the above paragraph.

There was a time when authors had to "market" only in the sense of showing up for book events and meeting their fans. Blogging opened the door for connection online, as did Facebook and such, but now it's like, Oh, hey, since you're out there anyway, why don't you just.... And that's not really too bad.

Still, the big presses do way more. They are still setting up author events for the the authors (indies must book their own). They take care of landing those professional reviews (many of which indies have no chance of getting). They provide review copies for bloggers (as opposed to indies who have to provide those copies out of our own pockets). In other words, much of what the big presses do has nothing to do with author presence--it's behind the scenes.

The frustration I'm finding is that there are two sides to this issue, but they keep getting lumped together. And here is where that Princess Bride quote comes in.

Marketing in the personally-getting-in-front-of-readers sense is a totally different animal than the business side of marketing.

I am fine with the first. I like doing signings and author events. I like visiting with students at schools and meeting people at conventions. I was a teacher before taking up writing, so leading sessions at writers conferences and speaking at writers groups is something I actually enjoy.

It is the business end of it that makes me want to throw up. It's setting those events up, and trying to figure out how to increase my reach online, and studying social media numbers and SEO patterns and...and....

Blerck.

For other authors, it is the other way around. They are shy, introverted (I'm introverted but can go into extrovert mode when I put on my teacher hat) and they would rather focus on the behind-the-scenes stuff. Some of them are more business-minded and have no problem dealing with that end of things.

And yes...for some authors (a lot of them, actually) it's both that are problematic.

But my point is: The word "marketing" isn't so easy to define. It's meaning is different for different authors, depending on where their likes and dislikes, talents and weaknesses lie. It's meaning can also vary depending on how the author is published, and who the author's audience is. Yet most of us use it as this catch-all word, and therefore many discussions about marketing and its importance and what authors do/don't or can/can't do end up with everyone talking in circles around each other.

So--what does marketing mean to you?

Monday, March 17, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Hop

I've been invited to do another of those blog meme thingies, and I thought this one would be pretty fun. The focus is on an author's personal writing process. I was sent four questions to answer...

First, let me thank the author who invited me to participate in this: Jeff Chapman writes speculative fiction that falls somewhere in the fairy tale, fantasy, and ghost story genres. Find him at http://jeffchapmanwriter.blogspot.com/. You won't be sorry if check out his writing, I promise. 

And now, without further ado:

1) What am I working on?

Right now, I've been focusing mostly on a story that I think will finish at novella length (it's about 1900 words so far), but the way it's been growing (it was originally meant to be a very short story) it may end up full novel length.

The premise is this: A young girl comes to a very small town with her father, who happens to be a land developer starting construction of a bridge that will lead across a deep ravine into a heavily wooded area where he intends to build a retreat center. The problem: there is already a bridge in that area, a hundred-plus-year-old bridge, that the locals don't want to see disturbed...

...not because it means anything to them, but because they fear the wrath of the man who built it and then died three months later.

Yes, my first ghost story :).

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This work in particular...I'd say because this book lies right on the edge of Middle Grade and Young Adult, the whole ghost story in a small town thing isn't a common trope. And I hope the angle I've taken makes it truly unique. (That part's a secret, though.)

In general,  my YA writing tends to be more focused on situations where paranormal/supernatural elements (including magic, like in my Toch Island books) are contrasted with viewing those things purely from a physical position. The main characters tend to be kids who are very scientific and logical, but also open to the ideas of things beyond the physical.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Probably because that (see question above) describes me so much. I am one of those "both sides of the brain" people. I'm equally strong in language and math. I'm artistic/creative and scientific/logical at the same time, all the time. I love the merging of ideas and realms. The idea of different dimensions residing in the same space, of a physical world a spiritual world being both separate and fully connected. It's all very interesting to me.

And I tend to write from a MG/YA/teen perspective because it comes naturally to me. I love reading MG/YA/teen fiction, and not because it's "easier" (see my recent guest blog post here on that topic), but rather because many of the constraints of adulthood are lifted in fiction for younger people, and you can explore the world, and beyond, with more openness.

4) How does your writing process work?

Who says it works? Hah!

Honestly, I don't have a set process. I tend to write with a little outlining--more like scribbling of ideas in a notebook and then sorting into a logical order--and a little seat-of-the-pants writing. I have no set time of day during which I write. Sometimes I'm most motivated first thing in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes late, late at night. Of course, a quiet house helps a lot, and that doesn't happen much these days.

Anyway, I tend to get the first draft done, then focus on whatever self-editing I can do, then send it off to a trusted critique partner. Depending on what needs work, I may start on the edits immediately, or stave them off until I have better figured out how to tackle them. I've completed three novels so far (two of them published) and the process for all three varied drastically.

....So, there you go!

And check out those I chose as the next victims--er, I mean, some awesome authors who will be posting their "My Writing Process Blog Hop" posts in the next week or so:

Lelia Rose Foremnan : http://www.leliaroseforeman.blogspot.com/

Heather A. Titus: http://hatitus.wordpress.com/

Travis Perry: http://travissbigidea.blogspot.com/

Jill Domschot: http://jilldomschot.com/

Kessie Carroll: http://netraptor.org/blog/

Tina Yeager: http://tyeagerwrites.wordpress.com/

Rebecca P. Minor: http://www.rebeccapminor.com/

Dana Bell: http://danabellauthor.blogspot.com/

Melanie Gillon: (link to come)

Adam Graham: http://www.adamsweb.us/blog/

Lisa Godfrees: http://lisagodfrees.com/

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Branch Out--Please!--But Don't Uproot Speculative Fiction (Or, My Take, Again, on Christian Spec-Fic)

This is a Banyan tree. It branches out, and drops roots
from those branches. Much the way spec-fic should be. 
I've belabored the idea of this blog post for days and days. It's a topic I feel really strongly about, but don't know how to post about it without, as a friend in whom I confided said, taking someone to task. I will try, very hard, to be as general as possible. There are people out there with real feelings and true kindness to whom my references would seem less than positive.

That said....

I read a lot. Most writers do. Some of us stick more closely to a preferred genre. Others branch out more. I probably spend most of my reading time in my preferred genre, but I do, in fact, branch out quite a bit as well.

I'm a Christian. I don't, however, read standard Christian fiction as a rule. I've tried reading mainstream Christian fiction several times, and with few exceptions I could practically feel the sweat on the preacher's brow and taste the sanitizer used to scrub the manuscript clean. I've also tried reading "popular" (and I use that term loosely) Christian spec-fic, and I find the same preachiness and the same taste in my mouth, albeit flavored with dragon. (There are exceptions--not many, but I name some of them below*.)

So, I read mostly secular fiction, with a few Christian spec-fic books thrown in, and most of those are published by small presses because small presses tend to have looser guidelines when it comes to creativity and content, and actually appreciate subtlety.

This is where things get sticky, but it's the heart of what this blog post is about.

You see, when I or some others I've seen open up discussions about our lack of enthusiasm for the current selection of Christian spec-fic, particularly more "popular" (there's that word again) books/series, we are told that we're not reading enough of it. We're told, "Hey, you want innovative and different, go try (insert author/book/series)."

The problem is that too often those exact books are ones we'd place in the camp with the books we're complaining about--or in some cases are the very books we have already put in that camp. Or, even if it's a decent read, it's one of the first of a genre to be represented among CBA fiction...but that same genre has already come and nearly gone in the secular market. The "originality" the CBA claims to have is just something I haven't been able to see--not after having tasted so much of what's outside that bubble.

Now, let me turn things on their head a bit.

The other side of the coin is that many writers seem to be going for (and agents/editors looking for) new/trendy/different simply for desire to either gain popularity or stand out among the crowd. Mish-mashes of genres can be very fun, especially if they are done well (Bid the Gods Arise by Robert Mullin is one I highly recommend**), but there needs to be roots kept in what makes a genre what it is.

In other words, some of the tropes of fantasy and sci-fi are tropes because they are the things that drag sf/f fans back to the genre again and again.

I can read about a kid discovering magic again and again and never get tired of it. Put a dragon on the cover of a book and I am all over it. Good old-fashioned quests, prophecies and Chosen Ones, telekinesis, alien encounters and evil emperors...Well, you get the picture. The important part is to put an original twist on those tropes. Give us something rooted in the genre, but freshen it up. Sure, we don't want stagnant stories, voices that all sound the same, characters that are rehashes of characters we've already read, but you can still keep a solid core to your work that appeals to the die-hards and branch out a bit at the same time.

Anyway, I hope this post has been read in the spirit in which it was meant. Not a bashing of the CBA, but as an illustration of what I've been saying for a long time: The CBA is what it is, and works quite well for that, but it is a bubble. It has limits and spec-fic, at this time, it outside those limits for the most part.

But I promised to offer some suggestions...

*A few large press Christian spec-fic books that have actually impressed me:

Tyger Tyger, In the Forests of the Night, When the Stars Throw Down Their Spears by Kersten Hamilton - in that order as it is a series. YA fantasy with goblins and Irish folklore!

Dragonkeepers Chronicles by Donita K. Paul- fantasy, allegory, and full of traditional fantasy tropes including dragons and wizards

The Gates of Heaven Series by CS Lakin - fantasy, fairytale - a "series" only in that the stories all take place in the same story world, but you can read them in any order. (My personal favorite is The Map Across Time.)

The Telling by Mike Duran - Supernatural suspense. Very dark. His other stuff is very good, too, but this is the best of them, imho.

Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee - she's brilliant.

**Some other self-pub and indie books I'd recommend:

Anna and the Dragon by Jill Domschot - literary fantasy and beautifully written.

Seabird by Sherry Thompson - traditional fantasy, YA, with a rich, unique story world.

The Duke's Handmaid by Caprice Hokstad - a truly unique fantasy world with some rather deep and hard-to-grapple-with themes.

Alpha Redemption by PA Baines - sci-fi with a unique voice and an unconventional story telling technique.

The Windrider Saga by Rebecca P. Minor- dragons and knights and elves and a great voice.

Winter (and Prophetess) by Keven Newsome - YA/NA with a Goth main character and lots of dark supernatural elements.

I Am Ocilla by Diane Graham - uses every fantasy trope out there and combines them into a totally unique story.

Mareritt by Krisi Keley - a private investigator helping some college girls dealing with demonic dreams. A unique voice and compelling characters.

I know I'm missing some, but that's a start! At least you can see what I mean about finding more interesting stories among indies in the Christian market.

(Disclaimer--four of the indie books I recommend here are published by Splashdown Books, who published my novels. However, I had no part of the production of Alpha Redemption. I edited Winter and I Am Ocilla. I did artwork for The Duke's Handmaid, but was not involved with it otherwise.)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Making a New Realm: My Thoughts on the Realm Makers Conference, 2014 Blog Hop

I've really been struggling lately with this labeling thing. The Christian this and Christian that. I am totally okay with what is commonly referred to as "sanitized" fiction/movies/music being available for people who like that. I don't care if they want their own aisles in the bookstores, or their own awards. What I'm starting to get sick of, though, is the idea that one must choose which box to be in. "Christian" or "secular"...with the implication that one is "clean" and the other "dirty."

There is so much clean, wholesome fiction out there that doesn't address Christianity or faith at all, and it kinda only gets a polite nod from "Christian fiction" advocates, a "nice try, but where is GOD??" Or, on the Christian side, if you do include God but also include a single bad word or some other no-no...or maybe you write all that weird speculative stuff...you may get told that your story is great, blah, blah, blah, but it won't have a chance of being published in the CBA.

There have been interminable debates among Christians for as long as I've been writing (about 7 years), and judging from those discussions the debates started long before I boarded the ship. While sometimes it feels as if we're talking in circles, gears spinning, at other times it seems that little by little the cogs of those gears are catching hold.

If nothing else, what it's done is draw attention to the issue...and drawn like-minded writers toward each other.

A great example of this is Realm Makers. I attended the first Realm Makers Conference last year (August 2013) and it was amazing. All of those writers, all Christians, all writing weird and dark--some cleaner, some with lots of CBA no-nos--coming together in one place and connecting.

I wrote a bit about that experience HERE shortly after the conference. Basically, it was amazing to realize that I'm part of a movement. Not that I've been welcomed into the fold of an already existing, fully-formed genre, but rather that I'm getting to experience a genre taking form and taking root.

That is exciting. That is what totally pumps me up about being involved in Realm Makers.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying others haven't played major rolls in carving the way for Christian speculative fiction. Oh, they have. Early writers of the genre, small presses that  have managed to find a measure of success. Even online forums have been around for several years that have allowed us to reach out to each other.

But Realm Makers is another huge step forward, and it has to do with that idea of not being forced into one box or the other. There are loads of writers conferences and sci-fi/fantasy cons. But they come in two flavors: Either purely secular, or overtly, primly, conservatively Christian.

Realm Makers is neither of those things. It seems to be its own animal right now, and that is what I love about it so much. It is, truly, Making its own Realm.

 So, intrigued? Check out the Realm Makers website for more info on the conference.

And head over to Becky Minor's blog to enter the RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY for chance to win a digital subscription to Havok magazine and a five page edit from Grace Bridges, the owner of Splashdown Books.