Saturday, April 21, 2018

Christian Checkbox Scenes

I watched the movie The Magic of Ordinary Days on YouTube the other day. It's been one of my favorites forever and is the reason I love slice-of-life stories. Rewatching it, I was pleased to see similarities in theme with Martin Hospitality, but some "obligatory scenes" stood out, too. It struck me for the first time like the director (writer) was just checking boxes. I guess it's been a while since I've watched something older and specifically Christian. ;P I mean, it was a Hallmark.

Here is a list of scenes that strike me as little checkboxes. Why? Because you can find them in almost any older Christian movie (and, yes, even some Christian books). Especially slice-of-life stories. There's absolutely nothing wrong with using them--you can find quite a few in Martin Hospitality. It's just a new discovery to me that they're so overused, almost like they're sitting on a list somewhere of must-use-scenes. ;) Beware of slight sarcasm and exaggeration below.

singing in church

Wow. I think this first stood out to me in the TV series  Little House on the Prairie. They had one hymn they'd sing several times a season while it showed all the horses and wagons outside. For what reason? I guess to show that they went to church and set up some theme or character interaction.

bonus: write out the lyrics

Obviously, this is a book feature. Yes, I've done this, and yes, I will skim this in every book. If it's a well-known hymn, there's no way I'm reading all twelve verses. :P It's almost like brownie points, though. Don't just talk about or show people singing. Provide the words. It makes your chapter longer!

double bonus: sermon snippet

Pollyanna is the movie comes to mind. The longwinded hellfire and brimstone sermons to show the pastor's character arc ... yeah, I'd skip those as a kid. Fast forward on my VHS player. xD These are good opportunities for more natural spiritual bits, so I did do this once or twice in my book.

holiday celebrations

This is one that I love. Think about it, though. Almost every family-centric story has this. Whether it's a kiddo's birthday party or a big family gathering for Christmas ... it's a really basic requirement. I mean, surely you can't have a sweet, fluffy story if there's not hot chocolate, cake, or presents at some point?

family meal

Sometimes this is included in the holiday scene and that's definitely extra points! It's often separate, though, just to draw out the family scenes. In all honesty, though, this is a good tool because it gets all your characters around the same table. If you need everyone to know something or want someone to embarrass themselves in front of everyone, this is the spot to do it. ;)

panoramic scenery shot

This doesn't have to be specifically Christian, I suppose, but it's a guarantee in little slice-of-life stories. Which means you're getting sunrises and wildflowers and cricket noises even though it's ten am. (You know, like the picture I used above.) These can be distracting in books if they take too long or take away from the story, but they're sneaky in movies! Goes to show the importance of setting.

reflection scenes

These get tricky. Modern writing is really picky about these, and I suppose modern movies, too. But older movies? Laden with these. You know, the ones where the movie starts and the character just stares out a window or whispers things to themselves for the first scene. It's not all bad because it sets the tone and gives backstory.

bonus: actual heads and voices appear

Yeah, by this point it's forced. xP Let's add the little cameo-shaped heads of a different scene above the character just so you really get the idea of how things went down. In books, this is where the character starts "thinking" about something and it takes three pages of an entirely different story before they're snapped back to the present. Definitely a pet peeve of mine. This goes to show how important it is to weave in backstory. All at once is always a little cumbersome. ;)
Thoughts on this? xD I promise I'm not actually mad at people who do any of things (because I do) so I hope I didn't step on any toes. There are plus sides to some of these. It's just funny to me how common and overused they are! Do you have any checkbox scenes to add?

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Bibliophile Sweater Tag

It has been ages since I've posted a tag on my blog. Lately I've been answering them in my newsletter, which is where this one was supposed to go ... but I'm writing this at 11:09pm on Friday night and no blog topics are speaking to me. PLUS, this is no ordinary tag. This tag is not only 10000x cuter and more loveable than most, it was created by my friend Mary. I first saw the tag when my other friend Katie Grace did it and was all aesthetic and everything.

Yes, I know it's nowhere near sweater weather right now (*cries*), but I can dream. There's a thunderstorm going on outside so it at least gets me in a cuddly sweater mood even if it's more humid than a sauna. ;)

Fuzzy sweater

(a book that is the epitome of comfort)

Some Kind of Happiness by Clare Legrand

I know this may seem like an odd choice if you've read it because it's anything but fluffy. I don't think I've related to a book so much in my life, though! And it's kind of all about finding comfort and figuring things out. :)

Striped sweater

(book which you devoured every line of)

The Out of Time Series by Nadine Brandes

These books have everything I could ask for and so much more, including keeping me up late and having the most powerful spiritual themes  in the history of spiritual themes. The whole series received 10/10 shrooms from me.

Ugly Christmas sweater

(book with a weird cover)

Entwined by Heather Dixon

I feel like I just made enemies. *hides* Don't get me wrong, this is another 10/10 shrooms book, but the cover does not match anything I had in my head while reading it. Plus, there's just a little too much happening for my taste. But the book is really good. ;)

Cashmere sweater

(most expensive book you've bought)

Write Great Fiction Series by various (Writer's Digest)

I know the series was on sale, but I still think it was a lot of money. Like ... a lot. Or maybe it came with a magazine subscription or something?? There was a special, OK? xD I'm still working my way through these and hope to get the editing and revision one I'm missing from the series at some point.


(favorite classic book)

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

I mean, I just never tire of it. It's got history, action, espionage, heroism, mystery, and it's so utterly witty and romantic. I've gotten two of my siblings and my mom to read it after hearing I enjoyed it so much which is probably a record. ;)


(book that you bought on impulse)

Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull

I grabbed this one off Thriftbooks for cheap because it had a cute cover and sounded neat. And was cheap. I haven't read it yet! *hides* I hope it's a fun one. If it's not my cup of tea, you may be seeing it in a giveaway here at some point xD

Turtleneck sweater

(book from your childhood)

Bread and Jam for Francis by Russel Hogan

What kind of horrible decision-making question is this?! xD The Alphapets, Runaway Ralph, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Newton ... they're all ingrained in my childhood.

Homemade knitted sweater

(book that is Indie-published)

The Sorceress and the Squid by Emily Mundell

I felt like picking one of my own is cheating and I cannot say enough good things about this book. All of you must read it!!! It's so whimsical and clever and fun, I can't even handle it. Another 10/10 shrooms for sure.

V-neck sweater

(book that did not meet your expectations)

The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

I promise I did try to come up with something more original here ... but alas. This is one of the most disappointing  book series I've ever read. And yes, I did wade through the entire trilogy hoping it would get better. It didn't. Maybe 4/10 shrooms? I loved the premise, but that was about it.

Argyle sweater

(book with a unique format)

Me: *sees pretty purple hardback in Barnes & Noble*
*opens book and finds pretty formatting*
*reads inside cover flap and is beyond intrigued*
*shelves other books and spends entire gift card*
(Yes, this could also count as an impulse buy!) I get to read this starting next week and I'm SO EXCITED!!! It sounds like Victorian England meets futuristic, sciencey England and dude I'm all for it. Really hoping this is at least an 8 shroom read. It's got some dividers, quotes, "web pages" and other neat things I'm looking forward to diving into.

Polka dot sweater

(a book with well-rounded characters)

The Sentinel Trilogy by Jamie Foley

Her characters are gold and make her epic universe even more awesome. She nails a bunch of character arcs and even mulitple POV really well. Right up there with Hunger Games and Harry Potter in my book!
All of those books were either very highly recommended or very highly not recommended :P SUCH A FUN TAG! I'm lame, so I'm not going to tag anyone, but I'd love to hear your answers on your blog or in the comments. :D What are your thoughts on books, sweaters, and this adorable tag?? ^.^

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Writing about Hardship from Inexperience

I've seen some interesting things lately about young authors, writing what you know, and walking the line of "authenticity" in Christian fiction. So I'm going to break down some of my thoughts on all of that based out of my own convictions and experience as a young Christian author. Prepare yourselves for some strong thoughts ...

Caveats: I am young. I am fairly inexperienced as far as things go on a worldwide, lifelong scale.

Disclaimer: That does not make me any less of a person or any less of a writer.

This post is also fairly subjective; there's not much right or wrong here. (So feel free to politely disagree--that's basically what I'm doing in this post.)

I'm sure we've all heard the "write what you know" writing rule by now, and I already spent some time disagreeing with that in this ask the author post by Savannah Grace.

There also seems to be a trend in the culture (especially the Christian fiction culture) to be "real and authentic." What this means is that a lot of "Christian" fiction now has gratuitous content that I am not OK with. I think part of the issue is that this is a fairly subjective issue as well and each author has to set their own standards. Readers, too, for that matter. How some things can be called Christian I'll never know.

However, on the other end of the spectrum is the mushy, preachy Christian fiction. I dislike that just as much because while I don't view it as harmful, I don't find it helpful or worthwhile either. So what's the point?

That's what I look for in a book: a point. Meaning. It doesn't matter whether I'm writing or reading it.

I am a young, Christian writer who has to find the balance in the Christian market and with my own conscience. I really feel like I've already found that sweet spot, and that enables me to say I'm confident that what I'm writing will touch people and won't be too much for my readers in a harmful way. Otherwise the Holy Spirit would be telling me to do things differently than I am.

And yet I write about hard things. Things I haven't experienced. Things I will probably (hopefully) never experience in my life. I don't think that excludes me from writing about teen pregnancy, blackmail, abuse, married life, and the internal struggles that comes with those any more than that excludes me from writing about WWI because I didn't live then.

I can confidently write about those hard things while being young, Christian, and inexperienced because:
  • Young does not mean I haven't gone through something comparable in my own experience. Just because my bad choices haven't left me pregnant doesn't mean I haven't made bad choices or lived with guilt and regret. 
  • Christianity by definition is difficult. We are promised persecution and hardship and we live in a broken world. So of course I'm going to include those things in my stories.
  • Inexperienced does not mean I can't empathize with a situation. Again, I can envision a situation different than mine based on mine. My experiences give me a starting point from which to relate to my characters. I don't think writers are called to write their precise story, but almost all end up writing a version of it if you look closely at the themes.
I'm writing about difficult things to show God's glory and saving grace through them, not merely because it's juicy and attention-grabbing. I am sure there are people out there who write about hard things for headline's sake. But I am not one of those people and I don't think any of you are either.

To me, writing about hard things is like killing a character. To a certain level, it's my job to manipulate as a writer: I want my reader to cry. I do. And that's because to me that means I've gotten the gravity of the situation across and the moment of glory to God will be that much more glorious.

I'm not going to apologize for writing about hardship from inexperience. I have prayed and prayed over the level of content I include in my stories and ultimately have set the bar as low as I believe I feasibly can and not come off prudish or embarrassed of my own topic. Ultimately I'm not going to stop tackling hard things because that's what I believe I'm called to do. 

So when my friends marvel at my apparently unusual ability to shrug at a negative review, that's why. All of my negative reviews have been because I'm young and inexperienced and writing about hard things too graphically for the Christian genre. I'm truly sorry some of my readers have felt that way, but quite frankly I disagree because that's not what God told me when I asked.

I have been very blessed that my writing from inexperience has, for the most part, reached more people and touched more lives than I ever could have otherwise.
I'm not going to lie, I feel like I've opened a can of worms here! I really do want to hear your honest thoughts. What do you agree and disagree with? Give me your take on this issue! All I ask for is polite discussion which I doubt will be a problem with you amazing people. :)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

How I Create Characters

I was asked what the number one source is for my character inspiration ... and I realized it's kind of a cool process for me that I want to share with you guys.
I've never really thought about what inspires character creation in particular until that question came up. That's when I realized that it always starts with a setting. Always! A setting or a "what if" often strikes me first and the main characters always pop into my head after that. Faces, genders, their roles in the story ... a few basics like that. There are just given people that apparently have to accompany my ideas. 

I honestly have no idea how creating characters works for most people? But very rarely do I have to intentionally sit down and create a character because I have a huge hole. (Exception: Hayes Delaney in Behind the Act.)

It's really kind of neat to me that my brain associates the mood of a setting with a potential storyline. I think it's from there that the main character is born because their goals and arc have to fit the mood of the plot for there to be an actual plot ... When a main character's arc is a struggle, that's when I know the story really isn't ready to be written.

If you think about it, that odd spontaneous process is really rather cool. We judge people by their appearances all the time even though we shouldn't. Their mannerisms, attire, voice, smell ... everything points you to picturing them one way (sometimes correctly, sometimes incorrectly). I guess what my brain does is exactly the opposite of that for creating characters.

I take mostly mental notes on people I see around me for reference ... but when a particular idea captures my mind, I generate a character that seems to fit based on my experience. Try as I might (I've found from personal experience), it's almost impossible to tweak the "rough draft" of that character if you will. I develop them, sure, but I get stuck on their hair color, personality, etc. pretty quickly. Changing those details just seems unnatural! At least for the main characters.

Of course, I don't generate thirty characters when I see a castle postcard. All my other little side characters appear once I've planned the story some and begin writing. Sometimes I can envision them beforehand? But not usually. I wouldn't say they all write themselves per se, but some do!

So when people compliment me on my characters, I don't really know what to say. I do work on making sure they're unique (not too cookie cutter), distinct from one another, and important to the story. But other than that? Everything kind of just happens and gets revised ... Not that it isn't hard work; it  just seems like half the work is automatic.

At least that's the way it worked for Martin Hospitality, Andora's Folly, and Behind the Act. I really, really need it to happen that way for Martin Crossroads when I begin writing it again April 1st. I think the lack of new characters in it, since it's a sequel, has been one of my major roadblocks.

I know what I'll be working on until I begin writing it again tomorrow. ;)

And in light of characters and it being Easter weekend and everything ... can we just take a moment to appreciate God's creativity in making people and how amazing it is that He died to save his world of protagonists-turned-antagonists? I mean ... wouldn't you die to save your characters even if they made bad choices? Even your villains?
Am I super crazy? How does your brain generate characters? Have an amazing Easter weekend and I'll see you in April!

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Perks of Google Docs

My last post was on why hire an editor. When I edit, I've found that my favorite program to use is Google Docs. The good news is that while it's my editing tool extraordinaire, there are ways it can be beneficial for the writer as well!
In order to use Google Docs, all you have to have is a Google account since it's a Google app. For me, that came with signing up for a Gmail account since it's also under Google.

I don't even remember how I first stumbled upon Google Docs ... maybe through a friend using it. But it is the most helpful thing ever. It's basically just Google's version of Word, but it has several features that set it apart in my mind.
In days gone by I'd write all my ideas and then the draft of the manuscript itself in Word (not that I was finishing drafts in those days). So I have dozens of fragmented drafts saved to my computer. When I started writing in Google Docs, I wrote chapters in individual docs. I'm not sure why that seemed less extravagant than doing it that way in Word, but I really like having things separate for my early drafts.

Since I share my first draft with at least one friend, I love that I can just click share and input their email. Sending an email is basically the function, but because it's in-house, I know I'm not going to forget or put it off. No attachments they have to download or anything ... just opening up my shared file in Google Docs.

Though I'm only sending my writing to people I trust, accidents happen. I can prevent accidents through Google Docs. When I share a file, I can choose the person's level access: editing, suggesting, or view only. I always give people suggesting access. That way any changes they make display as suggestions instead of actually changing the document. So if they bump a wrong key or a cat walks on the keyboard the integrity of the document is not at stake.

Those comments and suggestions are the best part. Suggestions you just accept or decline and the change is implemented or dismissed. Comments are just that--little comment boxes with messages and input or what have you. If this is sounding similar to Word's track changes feature, it is. But the main difference is Google Docs is interactive, meaning I don't have to wait to share a Word attachment and wait to get it back completely edited. I get emails as people leave comments and I can open the doc and interact with the comments which will then generate them an email. That kind of interaction really keeps the process moving much faster and smoother as I share my drafts with alpha and beta readers. And it's so much fun to have a dozen people interacting with each other about your book ... it kind of becomes a virtual book club.
You can probably see why this is my preferred method as an editor.

Again, getting answers to my questions and uncertainties in the middle of editing is so much more useful than having to shoot clients email after email to hear back on preferences and such. Google Docs keeps all correspondence in-house and thus saves time. It's pretty useless for me to suggest all these minor changes if they're going to be irrelevant in the end. In Google Docs, I find things like that out sooner rather than later and can fine tune my editing to the client as I go.

I also feel like I get to know people better when I use Google Docs. Again, because the interaction is simpler, I get a lot more of it when people decide to use Google Docs with me. They'll explain themselves, discuss plot holes, clarify things ... all of which help me do my job better.

Using Google Docs also means I'm often given more time on a manuscript because the client can get to work editing on the beginning even as I'm still working on the middle or end. Letting the stages of receiving and applying the edit overlap condenses the timeline overall, but also takes some pressure off me if I need to take a little longer. I waste less time even if I take a day off because the client has access.

So in the end, I vastly prefer Google Docs even though Word's track changes is the only other thing I've tried. It's the next best thing to marking a hard copy with a red pen.
Honestly whether writing or editing, I can only think of a few downsides.

Most people don't write in Google Docs, so to be able to use it they're often copying things over and I think there are some minor things like emdashes and such that don't always copy correctly? To me that's a fairly minor con considering all the pros as I'll catch that kind of thing in an edit.

Also, Google Docs requires internet. This is rarely an issue for me, but it's a little easier to be handicapped for that reason. This also means that when I'm editing a manuscript that's a single file, it can take a minute or so for it to load the entire thing.  (This is one reason I share my manuscript as a file per chapter.) It's worth it, though, because it's more searchable as a single document.

That's literally all the negativity I can think of! Have you tried Google Docs?
Yes, I am aware that this post is two days late. My week exploded (and I had a manuscript to finish in Google Docs), so there ya go. :P What programs and apps do you use for writing and editing? Do you like Google Docs?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Why Hire an Editor

I've been thinking more about indie books of late. And I've been having more people give me book recommendations with a disclaimer: it needs to be edited ... but the story's really good! So how important is it to hire a professional editor before you publish your book?
It's non-optional! I know indie authors don't get an editor as part of a publishing contract. And I know indie authors also have a tight budget for each book. There are some things you can do yourself,  but I always hire out cover design (because the cover has to be good to sell), interior formatting (because I haven't learned it yet), and editing. If I'm telling you that as a freelance editor ... then you should I know I mean business. ;)

The reason I always always hire an editor is because she's. not. me. That's basically what it comes down to! I want someone who's gifted with editing and can read my final draft so that I feel confidant that it's had a final polish.

One danger of self-editing is that inconsistencies can be created while trying to solve problems. It could be as simple as misspelling someone's name or as important as using the wrong name and confusing your readers. But let's establish right now--there is no such thing as an insignificant error. Errors are errors and they lessen the quality of your book! That's why I want eyes I trust (I use Kelsey Bryant). Honestly the task I give her is really just a final proofread, which some people charge less for.

For the other things like getting feedback on character development, pacing, confusing sentences, plot holes ... I use alpha and beta readers. I have a pool of six people I use for alpha reading, depending on who's available and who would be interested in my particular story. This is for a critique on the first draft. For betas I usually open up a form and take about 15 friends to read through a later draft that I can then ready for Kelsey.

This is invaluable and where the bulk of my editing comes in. But I'm not comfortable just having online friends read it, because most of them are readers and writers, not editors. There is a difference, and it shows in a final manuscript. And again, I need one person to give it a last read through.

Why don't I do it myself? 1) Because I'm really done with the book by this point xD I've edited and re-edited and I really don't have the time or energy to read all the way through it. 2) Being my own work, I'm going to read it the way I mean for it to come off, not necessarily the way it will come off to other people--readers. So there's that.

I think the main reason people don't hire editors is because, unlike me, they'd rather spend the time than the money. I totally understand that! And this post is not saying that every published book without a professional edit is bad. Yet I would say that there is a noticeable difference, at least to me as an editor. If your readers can see that difference, your book isn't going to do as well.

So the struggle of finding a cheap editor! If someone's offering you a comprehensive edit for free, you should be wary because they deserve compensation for the hard work that editing is! Yes, you get to read a book. But editing is so much more than that.

Thankfully, there are quite a few writers who also offer editing services for less. To be completely honest here, I'm not sure every one of them should. It seems like a popular thing to do, and I can't imagine that all of them are actually skilled editors. But I digress ... :P

Do not pay $2,000 to have your novel edited. There comes a point where I don't think it is worth your money. But instead of throwing up your hands and deciding to do it yourself, see if you can find a relatively inexpensive editor who will do the job well.

Hiring someone is scary. But the easiest way to avoid paying a bad egg is to hire off the recommendations of friends. That's how I found Kelsey, and I'll be using her to the end of my days, I expect.

And yes, I'm an editor, and the cheapest one I know ... but this is not a post just to promote what I do (although I'd love to have you). It's a post to promote the importance of editors because they're really quite cool and underrated.
OK, so now I'm curious!! Do you hire an editor before you publish? Who do you use? Do you offer beta reading or editing services? Definitely feel free to drop links!

Also, this has nothing to do with editing xD ... but I have some super cute magnetic bookmarks available in my Etsy shop now!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Sage by Jamie Foley

What better way to christen my blog into its second year than by sharing a book review? This is something a few of you asked for more of on the blog survey. Plus, this is such a great book!

Ancient elementals awaken, fracturing a dying world to its core.

Teravyn Aetherswift returns to the land of the living, but everything seems unfamiliar… including her little brother. Zekk offers help, but can an alluring Lynx be trusted?

Sorvashti finally has everything she ever wanted, so the last thing she wants to do is run after traitors. But she won’t leave Jet’s side—unless the horrifying truth about his mother tears them apart.

Darien is sick of being used and lied to. But if he stands up for what’s right, he’ll pay the price with his life… or the lives of those he loves.

It's available for purchase here:
Never ever has the third book in a trilogy been my favorite. EVER. They're always too political for me and so busy tying up all the loose threads that they're not quite as interesting. But this one?? It honestly makes the whole series even more worth reading.

(You can find my reviews to the prequel Viper, first book Sentinel, and the second book Arbiter by clicking on the titles.)

Quite honestly this book was written very tightly--that is super professionally. I didn't have a whole lot to do as her final editor. Plus, Jamie has a way with words. Such precision and word pictures. She's the queen of plot twists and family ties and amazing connections. Everything's so tight-knit and well thought through, I just love it!!

If you haven't been introduced to the world of Alani yet, you really are missing out. This YA dystopian series introduces a unique flare with its elements and inherent power that is strengthened by the presence of the creator inside. (The biblical parallels, you guys! o_o) There are more shippable couples than you can imagine and so. much. action.

The character development also gets a 10/10 for me! The arcs of characters that are somewhat immature at the beginning come so far and it's really so beautiful!

I hope that was a somewhat coherent review because really I'm just in awe of Jamie and so proud to 
call her my first writer friend and mentor! This book (and entire series) receives a full 5 stars from me! :) You can read my Goodreads review from several months back here.
Jamie Foley loves strategy games, home-grown berries, and Texas winters. She’s terrified of plot holes and red wasps.

Her husband is her manly cowboy astronaut muse. They live between Austin, TX and their family cattle ranch, where their hyperactive spawnling and wolfpack can run free.

Find her here:
What blog tour is complete without a giveaway?! :D

Enter to win a digital $10 Amazon gift card (3 winners) by signing up for Jamie’s newsletter via this form.
Why on earth have you not read this series yet?? o.O I don't consider the general style or plot my cup of tea and I still can't put them down!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Why Linkups Are a Good Idea (Vlog Challenge #8)

I left myself only a few days to spare, but I finally filmed my video for the eighth Very Awesome Vlog Challenge that Ivy Rose hosts. I'm so glad these are back!

Before I link to my video, let's talk about link-ups.

Ivy's video challenge is link-up, which means she has something embedded in her blog so that people who decide to participate in an event (in this case, record a video answering preset questions) can add their link simply by clicking.

I've yet to create my own link-up anything, but they're a fantastic idea! Beyond just encouraging someone to leave a comment on a blog post or interact on social media, the person behind the idea of the link-up has created a specific interactive project that requires the person to actually engage in order to participate.

Of course, you can't force someone to participate. But link-ups are a great way to highlight other people, get to know one another better, and try new things. All without having to leave home or spend money! Plus, you're not committed to coming back, even though most link-ups have recurring editions.

You should definitely try out Ivy Rose's link-up because vlogs are also really really fun. (And she asks great questions.)

(and yes, I was supposed to say "bye" at the end, but I hit stop too soon :P)
What are some fun link-ups you've seen or have participated in? I'd like to do one twice a year maybe, but I have yet to find the perfect idea. Maybe I should do the next signature challenge as a linkup? I'd love to hear your suggestions!!

Also!! Speaking of involved, fun things, all the way through the end of March you can submit questions to a whole group of authors (including me) in this blog post. We'll answer them in April! :)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Why We Don't (or Shouldn't) Outgrow Junior Fiction

I've started to read more junior fiction again, and I've been really pleasantly surprised. Even though it's often marketed for children 12 and under, it's a safer bet that I'll enjoy a JF book than almost any other of late.

When reflecting upon some of my favorite books of last year and thinking about starting a book club for 9 to 12-year-olds, I realized just how great junior fiction is. We should never ever be too old for it! It often grapples with big issues but retains an innocence because of the childlike POV that comes with young characters.

Some JF books I've enjoyed are The Mysterious Benedict Society, Navigating Early, Listening for Lions, The Great Good Summer, A Series of Unfortunate Events (#1-13), and probably two dozen others I'm forgetting. All of these have been more recent gems for me (like, within the last two years), except for Unfortunate Events. I grew up on those. ;)

Even though it still makes perfect sense to write with a target audience in mind (in this case, children 12 and under), I think one mark of a truly good book is its ability to be enjoyed by all ages. This is one reason series like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia are so popular.

I've been shocked, honestly, at how good JF is. I'm sure there are bad eggs as with all genres. And sometimes it doesn't quite seem like it would actually suit such a young child. They're just so true, though. That's why we don't outgrow junior fiction. I think Jesus had a pretty good point in Matthew 18 when He told His disciples to have faith like a child. There's something that we lose as adults. The innocence, blissful ignorance, lack of self-consciousness, and the simplicity of life. It's a perspective that we can't quite get back.

Except by reading junior fiction, as I have discovered. ;) That's why we shouldn't outgrow it.

The neat thing is, they're not fluffy books. All of the ones I mentioned above are so good because they're children dealing with really difficult adult things. But they're still children! So their very approach, despite how much the circumstances force them to grow up, is so very different than anything other books can offer.

And it's beautiful.
What junior fiction books have you enjoyed? Do you still read JF?

Saturday, February 24, 2018

How My Blog Saved My Writing Career Before It Had Begun (aka The Left-Handed Typist turns 2)

At the time you're reading this, I'm kicked back at a mansion on a lake celebrating my blog's 2nd birthday. I kid you not. (Except that being at the lake with my church has nothing to do with my blog but the weekends lined up, okay? :P)

I started this blog over two years ago. o.o Where has the time gone?! You tell me. All I know is I have loved blogging. Not all the time, sure. But it has literally saved my writing career.

To be totally forthright here, I used to laugh at blogs. As much as I liked the idea of journaling, I was never happy with it or consistent, so why bother? To me blogging was journaling online. So why would I care to read blogs (except for an occasional recipe), let alone write one and be all authentic and extroverted (*shudder*)?

Well, the first writing blog I ever found was Katie Grace's and I was blown away. I was enjoying this? More than that, after several months of e-mail communication with her, I'd roped her into helping me start my own blog. Ha! (Poor girl didn't know what she was getting into when I sent her that initial "I love your blog and I never love blogs!!!" e-mail.)

On February 24, 2016, Katie was so so kind and posted this post on her blog sharing her side of our God-orchestrated meeting and my first ever blog post (*hides from the cringe*).

The funny thing about all of this is, it was totally God. As in, I was inexplicably compelled to start a blog and my mom was like "I thought you hated blogs!" (Think of Lizzie when she wants to marry Mr. Darcy. That was me and Leftie here.) Now, two years later, this "fluff writing" that was so dreadfully personal (blech!) has become the very crux of everything I do. And I would even say that this blog saved my writing career before it had even begun.

How? IT GAVE ME ALL OF YOU OF COURSE!!! No blushing, I'm dead serious! Blogging isn't just an outlet I didn't know I needed, and it's not just a platform for numbers needed for traditional publication. Because that outlet is me getting to connect with the real people all over the world that each of those numbers represents. YOU!

Here's the cliff notes version. Without this blog I never would have:

  • flown halfway across the country to OCW with Ivy Rose and Emily McConnell
  • had the first agent experience that I did
  • had people in multiple countries interested in Martin Hospitality
  • had 16 beta readers volunteer to read my messy second draft
  • known there were so many people like me
  • seen internet friends as real friends
  • been blessed with so many smiles and encouragement and yes, teary eyes, in relation to my books and your friendship
The easy way to apply to some of this to your own blog (without guaranteed results) is to:
  • have someone launch your blog
  • guest post
  • be yourself, but professional
  • interact in the comments
  • engage beyond your blog (social media)
  • be willing to seek people out and follow up
  • be prompt and genuine in your replies
  • don't make promises you can't keep
  • post consistently
All of that has had a huge effect on my befriending all of you :) Books are nothing without an audience and writers are nothing without support, so I cannot thank you guys enough for being that to me every day. The real reason I keep blogging? I know I'll get to see all your shining faces in the comments and that brightens up my life. All these words I share both here and in my books amount to me hoping to shine back, even just a little, into yours. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for that opportunity and privilege. :)
Bloggers, what keeps you blogging? Non-bloggers, why do you follow blogs? Have you ever considered starting one? I want to know it all!!!

(And yes. As of now this blog is known as Leftie.)

Also, congratulations to Seneca, Keturah, and Faith Potts! You guys won the giveaways and should each have an email in your inboxes :)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Art of DNFing

I've been waiting all week to bomb you all with another Valentine's Day-themed blog post ... but alas my brain is not working. Let it suffice to say that my favorite literary couple resides in The Scarlet Pimpernel and you should all watch the 1934 movie version on YouTube. Now for the art of putting a book down.

Please tell me that I'm not alone in feeling obligated to finish a book once I start it. Up until last month, I was determined to push through any book I began. But guess what? I don't have time for that.

I guess my logic went like this: I like to rate/review all books I read, not just the positive ones. I don't feel qualified to leave any negative feedback if I didn't finish the book to get the whole picture. Well, I've finally decided that's stupid and I need to change xD

Why would I put myself through a terrible book, wasting time and mental energy when I have zero interest in finishing it? I think I'll solve my previous problem by creating a DNF (did not finish) shelf on Goodreads and forget about rating those ... it'll speak for itself.

I think I also felt like if I DNFed something, it didn't count as reading it ... I think that's kind of bogus. Same with skimming. DNFing and skimming aren't full-attention reading cover to cover.  But if you gave it a shot and set it aside ... you can rest assured that that's just as final and "complete" as reading a book cover to cover. It's not your fault if you didn't enjoy it.

And as much as I hate to slap a I-disliked-this-book-so-much-I-couldn't-bear-to-finish-it label on books ... I'm going to start doing it.

Some of you are applauding my reading progressivism and others of you are probably sitting in stunned horror. Here's my reasoning:

  • I don't have time to waste reading books I don't enjoy
  • I should really be reading for my own enjoyment and edification, not to make authors happy
  • I don't have to rate books I DNF; I can just say I didn't finish and why
  • I'll get to books I could enjoy much quicker if I DNF the ones I'm not enjoying
All that being said, there are few times I can think of when DNFing is absolutely not okay and those exceptions would be when
  • beta reading
  • editing
  • reading when you promised a review
  • a school assignment
If you've made a promise to an author or have an expectation from your teacher or parents, you'd better knuckle down and follow through no matter the pain. (Trust me, I've been there.) But if you haven't made any promises, then don't feel bad setting the book aside and moving on to something more fun!

I think this is going to be harder for me than it sounds, but also a much better use of my reading time. Plus, just because you DNF something right now doesn't mean you can't return to it (and like it) later. Sometimes the timing just isn't right.

I also think feeling freer to DNF will lead me to try more books on a whim, because I won't feel bad putting them down. As long as I can maintain the balance of trying new things, going into books hoping to like them, and making it say ... 10% before setting them aside, I think DNFing will help me expand my reading horizons, not limit them to a narrow niche of preference. 

The more I think about it, of course I have started books and never finished them. I just don't think I've ever intentionally stopped reading a book ... Sounds like I need to update my DNF shelf on Goodreads ;)
What's a book you've DNFed (or should have)? What are your thoughts on stopping a book in the middle? Is it a struggle for you or second nature?

If you really want some good Valentine's Day posts, check out Nadine's on standards and singleness and Aberdeen's on her favorite romance books.

Don't forget today's the last day to enter this giveaway.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Writing a Meaningful Villain // Maddie Morrow

Today I have Maddie Morrow on the blog who takes over starting ... now! The Joker to Batman. President Snow to Katniss. The Wicked Witch of the West to Dorothy. All very different characters, but one main purpose: Be the villain.

In books and movies, we love these characters (or I should say, hate them). They drive the story forward: Thwarting our beloved hero at every turn, terrifying us with their cruelty, tugging at our heartstrings with their tragic past. Without them, there would be no story.

Who wants to read about a girl named Katniss who lives in Panem, where the government is kind and stable, there’s plenty of food, and nobody dies?

There’s no reason to destroy the One Ring if there’s no Sauron trying to wield its unbridled power.

Tessa would have never met Will Herondale in The Clockwork Angel if the dark sisters hadn’t kidnapped her for the magister first, and that my friends would be the greatest tragedy since Jack didn’t survive in Titanic.

So what makes a good villain, and how do we write one? This is a question I struggled with for years before a lightbulb came on. Here’s a few of the things I’ve discovered when it comes to writing meaningful, dastardly devils.
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times, but it really cannot be said enough. Without a goal, your character is just evil for the fun of it. Very rarely is anyone evil just for the fun of it. They need a goal. A strong one.  I’m going to use Disney’s Cinderella for an example, because I feel like at this point everyone should know the story (If you don’t, what have you been doing your entire life?), and no one will be terribly upset about spoilers. The writers could have just made the stepmother a jerk because Cinderella wasn’t her biological child. Plausible, yes, but it doesn’t add any depth to the story. However, when we realize that the stepmother’s goal is for one of her own daughters to marry Prince Charming, then we have a goal that adds something to the story. Now not only are they horribly mean to her, now they’re actively plotting against her, trying to keep the prince from finding her, and trying to convince him that the ugly sisters are actually the girl he danced with at the ball. A goal creates that tension that fuels the story, the back and forth battle that makes the hero’s final victory so sweet. It’s not special that the hero wins if the villain never fought them. A goal can also carry into a sequel, like in Cinderella II. Cinderella was already engaged to Prince Charming. Think she’s won, right? Not so fast. Stepmother got the magic wand. Now she can make Anastasia look like Cinderella, and hypnotize Prince Charming, still trying to achieve her goal. The battle begins.
Backstory gives us a reason for why the villain is evil. It also makes them more relatable, which we’ll talk about in the next point. In the TV show Revolution, we immediately find out that Sebastian Monroe is the leader of the Monroe Republic, and he’s a bad dude. Throughout the series though, we learn more and more about what led him to this point. We see how he idolized Miles Matheson. He didn’t have any family left. Miles was all he had. They were best friends. Miles was harsh, and not afraid to kill and hurt people. We get to see how Monroe starts to copy him. A good choice? Not at all. Does it take away from the fact that what he’s doing is bad? Nope. It does show us how he started though. Making small bad choices based off his love for Miles, that snowballed into the villain we saw on the screen. His backstory also gave us his tipping point. It showed us a few bad choices, and then we find out that Miles tried to assassinate him, and then abandoned him, and it all makes sense now why he’s got such a burning hatred for the man who used to be his friend, as well as why he knows anything about Charlie and her family.
Villains that are relatable stir up emotions in your readers, and that’s exactly what you want. At face value, I can’t relate to Gollum from The Hobbit at all. I don’t talk in riddles, wear rags, have a split personality, or eat things raw. However, when we find out that Gollum was once a person-like creature, who happened to find the ring, he becomes more relatable. We can understand greed, what might make him want to keep the ring for himself, and not let anyone else see it. We’ve all been greedy at some point. We can understand the fear and guilt that drove him to the caves after killing his friend (though I hope none of us have ever killed their friend. You get my point). Then he becomes relatable. Even though we still think he’s a sick, creepy little troll, we can feel empathy toward him. Maybe even sympathy. And suddenly the reader is conflicted. This guy is a creep. He kills people, and talks to himself. Yet here we are feeling sorry for him, because the ring has taken over his mind and reduced him to a sniveling little blob, who has no friends, so he has to talk to himself. Neat, huh?
A bad boy does not a villain make. I’ve seen this in a lot of first drafts when I beta read, and in a lot of my old stories. There’s a character (usually one with black hair, who wears a leather jacket, and probably rides a motorcycle) who is annoying. He probably teases the poor sweet girl in school. He might smoke cigarettes in the parking lot. He’s a bad boy for sure, but he never gets developed past the annoying stage. Lots of people in my life annoy me, but they don’t graduate to the role of antagonist unless they try to oppose me. It’s not enough to have a character get on your main character's nerves. They can move past annoying without batting an eyelash. Make the bad boy step up his game. Maybe he breaks into the damsel’s locker, stealing her answers off the test, and then changing hers so she fails, because he’s jealous of her perfect scores while he can’t get good enough grades to make the football team. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you conflict. Now we’ve got an antagonist. Our dear sweet girl is going to try and figure out who sabotaged her test, and the bad boy is going to do everything in his power to keep from getting found out. The hunt is afoot.
There’s three different types of villains, in my opinion. The first is the bad guy who knows he’s bad and he’s alright with it. Villains like Black Beard and Davey Jones in some of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

The second type, is the villain that knows he’s bad, but thinks the ends justify the means. Back to Cinderella’s stepmother; it wasn’t bad for her to want the prince to marry one of her daughters. He was looking for a wife, after all. Any mother would hope her girl would be the one to catch his eye. So she has a good goal, but she was willing to do evil (lock up Cinderella, let the girls destroy her dress, etc.) to accomplish the goal.

The third villain is the scariest in my opinion. The villain who thinks he’s a good guy. Villains like this are how we get Adolf Hitler. The man honestly believed he was doing some divine work by eliminating “lesser” races. The rest of the world saw him as the murderous, vile, creature that he was, preying on thousands of innocent human beings. A fictional example would be Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He’s a self-righteous fiend, who is under the impression that he’s doing the right and holy thing by killing gypsies and keeping Quasi locked away. A villain like this can really up the shiver factor for your story.
Nothing kills me more than the villain with hordes of mindless followers. Make them something worth following, in some twisted way. Take Tess Tyler from Camp Rock. (I’ve got little sisters, cut me a break.) For some reason Ella and Peggy follow her around like puppies, while she constantly degrades them. She never gives them anything in return for their loyalty. They gain the very shallow satisfaction of being one of the ‘cool girls’ but at the cost of being ridiculed constantly. Why? Make your villain have something appealing to the minions who follow them. The YA Western Dystopia I’m working on right now features a villain who is in charge of the largest gang in Cody, WY. He’s a ruthless killer, yet the men in his gang follow him. Why? Because I’ve given him something they want. He supplies them with the best food and water, the best housing, the prettiest women, and the easiest means to make ammunition. As long as they follow his orders, they can raise all the heck they want without reprimand. That’s appealing to them, so they don’t care if he shoots someone, or lies and cheats. Give your villain something that makes them a leader. Your readers will thank you.
Not all antagonists are truly villains. If two guys are trying out for starting quarterback, they immediately become each other’s antagonist. Neither one is evil, but they stand in the way of the other’s goal. One boy might try to spend extra time with the coach, or have his dad call and pull some strings to get him a better chance at starting. The second boy might have to work an afterschool job to help support his single mom and siblings, so he doesn’t have time to practice extra, and he doesn’t have a dad with connections. It doesn’t make the first boy a villain, just an antagonist, standing in the way of what our underdog hero wants. Sometimes this kind of character is what your story needs, more than a snarling, treacherous monster.

A huge thank you to Maddie for that awesome post! Here's some more about her and her closing questions:
Maddie Morrow is a Nebraska farm girl who puts way too much emphasis on Husker football. When she’s not arguing play calls, you can probably find her poking around in the garden, begging her flowers to grow, chasing her little boy around, or looking for tasty new things to feed her husband. Some of her hobbies include getting lost in books, trying to scribble out stories of her own, admiring her guitar collection and sometimes playing them. You can connect with her at her blog,
Also, a special thanks to Abigayle for having me on the blog today. It's been great spending time in her corner of the Internet.
How about you? What do you think makes a great villain? Who is your favorite fictional baddy? Drop a note in the comments section. I’d love to chat.

Abi again! Wasn't that a great post?! Last week I asked how long you guys thought it took me to write the MH birthday post ... my estimation is around 11 hours o_o That's with having to create some images, set up the Etsy shop, film the vlog, set up the giveaway, etc etc ;) The giveaway is still open!