It’s been another gorgeous day here in Tuscon, but it’s begun to cloud up. We’re supposed to have a big storm by the end of the week. I’m glad. Big storms make me want to bake Christmas goodies.
As I write, my husband is playing a puzzle game as the kids watch and give suggestions. The baby is asleep in my lap. It’s just a pleasant, peaceful evening. My favorite!
The baby is a month old today. I feel like my brain is slowly coming back. I’m able to make jokes again and enjoy life. All these things that had become super hard when I was big and pregnant are easy again. As I’ve been cleaning house, I find that I’d let so much slide–like mopping floors. I swept, but I didn’t mop, and boy are my floors bad. But now I have energy and I’m not in pain. Watch out, floors. You’re next!
Sorry this post isn’t very Christmasy. Mostly, today I was occupied with drilling math facts into the kids. Hopefully I’ll have better Christmas blog ideas tomorrow.
School started today in Arizona, so I’ve been running all day. It’s kind of nice to have the structure back, though.
Anyway, WordPress has informed me that on August 1st, Facebook will no longer let WordPress autopost to our personal feeds. They’re only allowed on the Pages … you know, the ones you have to pay to let anyone see. So I expect my traffic to drop by half. If you enjoy this blog, consider adding it to your reader of choice. It’ll still autopost to Twitter, of course.
And now, without further ado, my artwork practice!
Sorry about the Destiny stuff in there, I’ve been playing it a lot and it’s taken up residence in my brain. As you can see, my grasp of human anatomy is tenuous at best. Ah well, practice practice.
Then it dawned on me that I have very little grasp of values, so I practiced those, too.
I’ve gotten so rusty, it’s been good to practice the basics again. I’ve seen so many artists do amazing things with very narrow value ranges, and I just … cannot think that way. So I’m going to LEARN to think that way.
Hold on to your hats, folks, I’m going all literary analysis on you today.
So I’ve been getting into the games Destiny and Destiny 2. These are multiplayer online shooters where you shoot aliens and collect loot. Pretty straightforward and pretty fun (and often, just downright pretty.)
But the game also hints at a deeper backstory that it doesn’t explain super well, unless you’re willing to spend hours piecing together tidbits scattered throughout the games. So I’ve been watching lore videos on YouTube, where other people take all those tidbits and string them together into a cohesive story.
I’ve been increasingly delighted with the meta-narrative of Destiny.
Like most science fiction, the story operates from a humanist worldview: mankind can become gods if we just put aside our differences and work hard enough. But then the metaplot comes into play, and it’s decidedly not humanist. In fact, it swings decidedly Christian. I wonder if the writers at Bungie realize what they hath wrought and its significance.
The big picture story goes like this. There is this alien-machine god-thing called the Traveler that looks like a small white moon. It’s power is called Light. It shows up in our solar system, grants humans the Light, and terraforms the inner planets and the various moons of the gas giants. Humans go live on these planets. Humans also develop longer lives, better tech, etc, and go into a Golden Age.
This doesn’t last, of course. There’s an evil force called the Darkness that chases the Traveler from place to place. Its weapons are four alien races that serve it, but all who crave the Light–or hate it. They stomp humanity, destroy their colonies, and ruin Earth.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The Traveler actually battles the Darkness one on one. The game is very vague about this point, and the lore videos have multiple theories about what exactly happened. Point is, the Traveler won, but it was wounded and stopped terraforming and things.
Instead, it sent out these tiny robots made of Light called Ghosts. Each Ghost resurrects a single person, basically a zombie (or revenant, since they have their soul) powered by Light. They became known as Guardians. If one of these guardians is killed, they can be resurrected so long as their Ghost is unharmed. If their Ghost dies, no more resurrections for them, it’s lights out.
See the metaphor going on, here? It’s super interesting. Almost a Holy Ghost thing.
Now, it’s not a perfect metaphor. In real life, the God is the source of all Light, and He was not only before the Darkness, he already defeated it. The Darkness itself has a name and a face. Once known as the Light Bearer, he has become the Enemy, and his sin was pride. “I will become like the Most High!”
Jesus battled the Darkness and overcame it, being wounded on our behalf. In Destiny terms, the Last City in the shadow of the Traveler might as well be built at the foot of the Cross, because the symbolism is so similar.
Now, it’s really too bad that Destiny clings to its humanist philosophy. In its lore, the Traveler gives Light without making any demands of humanity. No devotion to righteousness, no forsaking sin and Darkness. In real life, there are two sides, and we have to pick one. If that was the case in Destiny, then the battle between Light and Darkness would go beyond meta-narrative and become the personal struggle of every Guardian. The story of the Warlords–guardians who abused their power–would become even more vile.
If such a choosing of sides was possible, then redemption would also be possible for the four alien races who serve the Darkness, however unwittingly. It would be possible for them to abandon Darkness and serve the Light, too, thus becoming very interesting allies.
But Destiny keeps things very Tao, with Light and Darkness equally matched and no ultimate victory is possible. Mankind doesn’t have to seek righteousness and abandon sin in order to receive power. (Which, the more you think about it, is so strange. Why aren’t Guardians forced to pick sides? There are in-game stories of Guardians who joined the Darkness, so maybe, in a way, that choice is still there, just buried out of sight.)
So, that’s Destiny’s meta-narrative, a lot of Christian ideas underlying a humanist story. And it’s funny, because if you make the game more humanist (the Light is ours because humanity is awesome), then the battle between Light and Darkness falls apart, with no real difference between them. If you make the game more Christian, with the Light actually having conditions and everyone being forced to pick sides, then the story becomes much more profound.
Maybe that’s one reason the story is intentionally left vague, scattered throughout the game in hints and tidbits. Breadcrumbs for those to see who can. I’m continually shocked at the Christian terminology these lore gamers use to describe these concepts.
I think it’s a good lesson for us Christian writers. Tell a good story and don’t be afraid to pull in delicious metaphor about the struggle between good and evil. It rings true for everyone.
I needed pretty much all of the above, so I checked out the book at the library.
After four chapters, I realized that I would need to buy this book. It is destined to be filled with underlines and sticky notes. I read a few chapters, furiously write things down, then read some more.
Story Engineering takes screenplay writing and applies it to novel writing. To become a successful author, you have to master the six core competencies:
Five: Scene execution
Six: Writing voice
Each item has five or ten chapters devoted to it, along with helpful worksheets to get the juices flowing. For example, at the end of this post is the list of questions for building a character, their backstory, salient characteristics, and arc.
Following his guidelines, I’ve got a rough outline of a tight plot that pleases me very much. The nice thing is, I already knew most of this. It’s an in-depth version of Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants. But this book takes it to an extremely detailed depth.
So if you’re like me with a few books under your belt and you’re looking to up your game, check out Story Engineering. Any tool that lets me write fewer drafts is great, in my opinion!
And now, that character sheet:
What is his backstory, the experiences that programmed how he thinks and feels and acts?
What is his inner demon, and how does it influence decisions and actions in the face of the outer demon?
What does he resent?
What is his drive to get revenge?
How does he feel about himself, and what is the gap between that assessment and how others feel about him?
What is his worldview?
What is your character’s moral compass?
Is he a giver or a taker in life?
To what extent does he adhere to gender roles and stereotypes?
What lessons has he not yet learned in life?
What lessons has he experienced but rejected or failed to learn?
Who are his friends? Are they like for like, or above/below him in intelligence?
What is his social I/Q? Awkward? Eager? Easy? Life of the party? Wallflower? Faking?
Introvert or extrovert? How does this manifest?
What is his secret yearning?
What childhood dream never came true, and why?
What is his religion?
What’s the worst thing he’s ever done?
Does he have secrets or a secret life?
What do his friends/family/employer not know about him?
When, how, why does he hold back/procrastinate?
What has held him back in life?
Who would come to his funeral–or not?
What is the most unlikely or contradictory part about him?
What are his first dimension quirks, habits, and choices?
Why are they in evidence, what are they saying or covering for?
What is the backstory that leads to these choices?
What are the psychological scars that affect his life, and how does this link to backstory?
How strong is he under pressure?
What is his arc over the course of the story? How does he change and grow?
How does he apply that learning toward becoming the catalytic force that drives the denouement of the story?
Coiled: A Young Adult Mythological Romance from author H. L. Burke and Uncommon Universes Press.
A healing touch. A hideous face. A looming curse.
As the ugly twin to a perfect sister, Princess Laidra lives her life in the shadows—until her parents offer her as bait for a giant serpent.
Her escape attempt leaves her shipwrecked on a secluded island with only one inhabitant: Prince Calen, who lives under a curse. If anyone looks upon him, he turns into a giant serpent. Speaking to him in the darkness, Laidra sees past the monster to Calen’s lonely soul, and she determines to free him from the magic’s hold.
But if Laidra can’t break the curse in time, Calen will become a mindless creature of scales and fangs forever.
A YA mythology/romance that retells the myth of Eros and Psyche with adventure, magic, and true love.
As soon as this book’s idea was posed, I was both excited and dubious. The Eros and Psyche story in all its iterations, whether it be East of the Sun, West of the moon, or the fairytale of the Princess and the Pig, there’s always the point I dislike: when the girl breaks her promise, looks at the guy, and bam, punishment falls. They’re always separated for the rest of the book. The story follows the girl’s quest for redemption, and no matter how awesome the guy was, we don’t see him again until the end.
So I was dubious of how Heidi might handle this story. Her guys are always charming, and I couldn’t see her separating the main characters for half the book.
First, the guy and girl are both under a mirror curse. The girl is ugly, but kind and has healing powers. Her twin sister is beautiful, but cruel. The more cruel/kind they are, the more beautiful/ugly they become.
The twin princes are also under a mirror curse. One becomes a giant serpent if anyone looks at him. The other becomes a serpent if nobody is looking at him.
There’s some interesting fine print in the mirror curses that come to light as the story goes on. The dreaded separation part isn’t as long as I feared, and is actually very logical.
The whole story has a very mythological feel, with gods and demigods roaming around and causing trouble. The story pays lots of tribute to its Greek myth roots, including sirens, gorgons, and dragons.
Ultimately I was satisfied with the way things turned out. The journey of the “bad guy” siblings turn out almost as interestingly as the heroes. And the giant serpent winds up almost endearing by the end.
If you’d like to read a fun new twist on an ancient fairytale, then grab this book. It’s heartwarming!
H. L. Burke
Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.
An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.
Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.
Today I’m participating in the Kickass Girls of YA blog hop. There’s all kinds of bloggers and prizes–click around and see what other bloggers are doing!
So often we get hung up on “what makes a strong woman”. Is it her ability to swing a sword? Is it her karate skills? Is it her ability to score head shots? (Honestly, that’s the selling point of most urban fantasy these days, and I get so tired of it.) If it’s fighting skills that define a character, then gender doesn’t matter–girl or guy can pull it off. It’s nothing special. Here’s the definition of character:
A.W. Tozer described character as “the excellence of moral beings.” As the excellence of gold is its purity and the excellence of art is its beauty, so the excellence of man is his character. Persons of character are noted for their honesty, ethics, and charity. Descriptions such as “man of principle” and “woman of integrity” are assertions of character. A lack of character is moral deficiency, and persons lacking character tend to behave dishonestly, unethically, and uncharitably.
As I sat down to ponder what makes a strong female character strong, I realized that none of these traits belong to one gender. Morals are morals across the board. So here’s ten characteristics displayed by a strong character, male or female:
Strong moral foundation. The character must be guided by strong principles, usually based on some kind of religious teaching, whether it’s Christian, Catholic, or something else. This is what motivates a hero to be a hero. It’s the line in the sand that defines Good as Good and Bad as Bad. Without this moral stance, who cares if crazy cultists open an infernal portal and summon Cthulhu? Moral relativism doesn’t hold up when mind-bending space squid are coming to devour reality.
Gentleness. It’s not breathtaking to watch somebody beat up a bunch of bad guys. What IS breathtaking is the powerful warrior caring for a child. Having power isn’t enough–the strong character must also be able to control that power.
Listening. The strong character must be a good listener, empathetic to others. Women are exceptional at empathy, but often this is overlooked in exchange for her leet katana skillz. We want our urban fantasy heroine to dice up demons! We don’t want a Doctor Who character who first seeks to understand the monster. Pff, nobody watches that Doctor Who show anymore, anyway!
Service. The strong character puts others first and themselves second. We love self-sacrifice in our entertainment. Nothing brings the feels like Sam carrying Frodo up Mount Doom. All the superheroes have that crucible moment of having to choose between their own life and the well-being of someone else. Your hero accomplishes this by putting others first in tiny ways first. Being polite, having manners, being patient with that quirky neighbor, taking the cat to the vet when they’d really rather sleep another hour, wiping a child’s nose. She who is faithful in little will be faithful in much.
See how all of these apply to both dudes and chicks? Character is character. It can be manifested in so many ways.
Yep, this is a book review. Of a really fun book. You ready?
No, I did not just say that in a WWE wrestler’s voice.
Anyway, here’s the official summary:
By day, book-loving wizard Lily Singer manages library archives. By night? She sleeps, of course. In between, she studies magic and tries to keep her witch friend Sebastian out of trouble. Much to her displeasure, he finds it anyway and drags her along with him.
From unmaking ancient curses to rescuing a town lost in time, Lily and Sebastian fight to avert magical mayhem. Meanwhile, Lily’s mysterious past begins to unfold–a past hidden from her by those she trusts most. Will she be able to discover the truth despite them?
And now for my review.
This isn’t really urban fantasy, not if you take UF to mean clever wizards as the underdogs in a massive struggle against an overpowering evil force against the backdrop of a rainy city. This is more like what I think of as contemporary fantasy (and might be at home on a shelf of paranormal cozy mysteries): Girl and guy solve mysteries. They have chemistry. They exchange witty banter. They drink tea. Oh, and occasionally they do some really interesting magic.
I think that’s one thing that attracted me to the book in the first place. The magic system is based on Sumerian cuneiform (which has always intrigued me). It smacks of frontiers. The heroine, Lily, is always learning some new spell by examining an ancient artifact. It thrills my little paleontologist/archeologist heart.
The hero, Sebastian, is a witch. But he’s a witch in the sense that his magic comes from trading favors with other beings. And the beings he prefers to deal with are fairies. So there’s lots of him bribing various fairies and pixies with booze. It’s hilarious and not very witchy. It’s like the lighter moments in the Dresden books when Harry bribes the pixies with pizza.
The book is laid out kind of oddly–it’s basically three novellas rolled into one book. So in Story 1, you meet Lily and see how she deals with a haunted house. In Story 2, you follow Sebastian into the seamy underworld of Alabama and see how his fairies help him take on a drug ring. In the third story, the artifact of note in story 2 has been used to freeze a whole town in a time loop. Think Groundhog Day.
It’s kind of odd reading three stories in one book. But they’re all heavily interconnected. The shorter length makes for quick reading (again, like a cozy mystery).
Since I’m always in the market for light, fluffy reading, this book hit the spot. I’m also reading the second book, which is supposed to take the metaplot a little deeper. There’s also a kickstarter going for books 3 and 4, which will be out soon (yay!).
It’s that time of year again–time to access what we did last year. What we ate, what we accomplished, and most importantly, what we read. What did we love? What did we hate? Well, without further ado, here’s mine!
The top fantasy books that I loved:
Southern Spirits by Angie Fox.
A girl who has lost her family home in the deep South accidentally gets herself haunted by an ancestor who happens to be a gangster from the 20s. He also knows the location of all kinds of buried money that she could use to buy back her house. So it turns into a combination ghost buster/treasure hunt/murder mystery, and it’s a fantastic read. I enjoyed it hugely.
Caliban’s War, by James S. A. Corey
The sequel to Leviathan Wakes, this was hands down one of the most entertaining space operas I’ve ever read. (Of course, I haven’t read a ton of them, but …) The alien protomoloecule has been weaponized. Our heroes from book 1 are trying to help a scientist find his kidnapped daughter, but are plunged into an ever-deepening conspiracy about the protomolecule. Meanwhile, on Venus … some new terror is constantly happening. The book is 624 pages, and I read it in one weekend. Couldn’t put it down. SO GOOD.
Aranya by Marc Secchia
In a fantasy world where everybody lives on islands above a sea of poison clouds, dragons are extinct. It’s illegal even to talk about them. Aranya is a princess of a beaten nation who is being taken hostage by their conquerors to ensure her father’s good behavior. While trapped in a tower with a bunch of other spunky princesses, she makes friends, enemies, and a boyfriend. Except when she uses her (spoilers!) dragon powers on an evil soldier, her penalty is to be dropped into the poison clouds. On the way down, she turns into a dragon. Surprise! Aranya is a dragon shapeshifter. Once she learns how to be a dragon, she declares a one-dragon war on the nation who captured her and tried to kill her. AWESOMENESS ENSUES. Loved, loved this book. Must get the rest very soon!
And now … the moment you’ve been waiting for.
People only read these lists for the list of worst books, right? So, without further ado, here’s the books I read this year that I disliked:
No affiliate links for these guys, sorry:
Uprooted by Naomi Novik.
Naomi, I love you, and I love your books. But you can’t write romance. Srsly.
The premise of this book is great. Every few years the Dragon takes a maiden from the village. Except the Dragon is the name of a wizard. And the maidens he takes get the My Fair Lady treatment, and after receiving a great education, move away to the big city. The Dragon has to do all kinds of magic to keep the evil Wood from consuming the village and the farmlands. The heroine gets picked one year, and she has MAGIC and they have to work together to stop the evil wood.
Sounds great. That part of it was. You can see the romance coming a mile away, except … it never did. I reached the end so disappointed that I got on Goodreads and wrote my own ending where he finally tells her that he loves her. *frustrated grappling motions in midair*
The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
This book has been on the top Amazon sellers for at least a year. I finally picked it up. It’s about a world that is vaguely late-1800s England (steampunk?) where magic can only be performed on man-made materials. The girl is bonded to paper, a medium she didn’t want, and put under the oversight of a benevolent paper magician. He’s adorable in a Howl’s Moving Castle kind of way (except less of a jerk). She learns how to fold paper in all kinds of ways to do different kinds of illusion magic.
Then, halfway through the book, the body horror starts. An evil wizard comes in who cando magic with the human body, and she slices out the magician’s heart. She also somehow traps the heroine inside it. Now the heroine roams from chamber to chamber inside a living, beating heart, and kind of doing this virtual tour of his memories at the same time. It was gross. And not what I expected. And just … what the HECKBERRIES.
Nameless by A.C. Williams
“It’s a space opera!” I was told as I picked this book up. “A girl with amnesia is trying to find her way back to her home planet!” So I scooped it up and tried to read it.
First off, this book is about how sex is evil. The heroine works in a brothel. When she gets out of the brothel, she’s randomly assaulted/leered at/groped/propositioned on EVERY PLANET SHE VISITS. Finally she hooks up with the cast of Firefly and things get slightly better (they only make lewd comments about her and don’t actually assault her, despite embarrassing shower scenes). I couldn’t take any more at that point, so I put it down. Maybe I quit before it got good, I don’t know. Just … after the excellence that was James Corey, I couldn’t do the SEX ABUSE IN SPACE thing.
So there you have it. My top and bottom reads of 2016! What are your favorite/least fave books of the year?
So far it’s only available at Amazon, but the other retailers will be up in a day or two. This is a young adult contemporary fantasy–technically urban, but it’s less about a gritty city setting and more about friendship and chasing ghosts. You don’t have to have read the other books to enjoy this one. But if you have read the others, it’ll be fun to visit all the characters again. Magic Weaver is on sale for .99 for the rest of the week, so grab it now!
This is the second book in his urban fantasy series. Unlike Magic Weaver, this IS set in a gritty city setting. If you ever wondered about the secret occult underbelly of Los Angeles, this is the book for you. Also, all the heroes have superpowers that are like all the fun bits of quantum physics.
Two new books! It’s so fun getting to launch books. Especially when I’m excited about my friends’ books, too.
It’s July National Novel Writer’s Month! Props to all my frantic writer peeps who are taking time out of vacation to scribble out random stories.
To get into the creation mood, I’ve been listening to all my brain-food music. One of them is Return to Pooh Corner by Kenny Loggins. I listened to it over and over as a teen while composing tons of crazy fanfics.
You know how listening to music can make those mental connections, and place you right back into a time and place where you last heard it? It also can have really powerful emotional connections. For me, it was like a snapshot of my mental state as a super-creative teen.
I lived in a world of good and evil, fantastic adventure, and heart-tearing drama. This album was some of the backdrop. I lived in Neverland, where once you’ve been there, you can never grow old. This was my land of pure imagination. I didn’t worry about genre or market. With fanfics, you don’t have to worry about that stuff anyway–it’s all built in. My plots were bonkers, but so fun.
But things changed.
I’ve spent the last decade learning to be afraid. Learning to worry. Learning all those dark, negative things that help you survive adulthood–but they cut off your shining Neverland. In its place, I built a narrow, dystopian world of darkness and fear.
I didn’t realize how far I’ve come until I put on Kenny Loggins and revisited that snapshot of how the inside of my head used to look. I want to go back to being that intense, happy person. I think my kids would like her. So I’ve been trying to be thankful, like Habakkuk: