Monday, January 11, 2021

Thoughts on Disney/Pixar's Soul + Writing Update

I know, yet another year where I’m not going to do a recap of my year. No one wants to relive 2020…except maybe for the Mandalorian season 2 part. 😉 So instead I want to talk about Disney/Pixar’s new movie Soul. And announce a few changes that will be coming in this new year. But Soul first. 

My sisters and I watched Soul for New Year’s Eve. It didn’t become an instant favorite the way Inside Out did, and it doesn’t surpass the ones I grew up on like Finding Nemo and Ratatouille, but even so, I really enjoyed it, and it’s one that’s really sticking with me. 

To start off, no, it is not an accurate, realistic, theological picture of how souls work, any more than our brains are controlled by personified emotions working a console. It’s an artistic representation, meant to tell a story with a particular message, and it works. And I’m still thinking about it. 

A little bit about the story: Joe Gardner has always loved jazz and wants desperately to be a jazz musician. But...he's a middle school band teacher. (By the way, I loved how they made the logo music sound like it was played by a middle school band. 😂) When finally Joe's about to get his big break, he falls down a manhole. But he's not willing to die just yet. Fighting death, he ends up in "the Great Before" where he must help soul 22 find her "spark" so she can be born on earth. Or rather, so she can give him her "Earth Pass" because she has no desire to go live life. (I know it all sounds weird. Somehow it works.)

I don't want to say too much more about the plot because of spoilers, but I do want to talk about what the movie says about life. Because that's what's really stuck with me.

We have to live. Just living life matters. It's a purpose, a spark.

Joe is so focused on trying to succeed as a musician he ignores everything else in life. He "doesn't have time" for a relationship, never bothered to actually talk to his barber, doesn't have a great relationship with his mom, and just doesn't even notice all the little things.

22 has no interest in life, but that's mostly because she doesn't really understand what life is. As she experiences life through Joe, she finds that life really is pretty amazing. She eats pizza, connects with people, enjoys "sky watching," and just shows Joe a wonder and appreciation for life.

It makes me remember The Phantom Tollbooth, actually. I haven't read that book since elementary school, but I still remember how it starts out. With basically a commentary on how people don't look up. How people don't notice things. They're just walking along, looking down, and not noticing life around them.

Which is basically what Joe is doing. And he's missing everything.

I know I'm often guilty. I get tunnel vision about whatever thing I'm working on and don't really look around. I don't take time to enjoy the outdoors. I often don't take the time to cultivate friendships, or to maintain them. And I don't want some day to look up and see that life has passed me by. That I've been so focused on that material goal that I forgot about the things that really matter.

I feel like it's an especially important message after 2020, where we were all so focused on the pandemic and all so isolated from each other. Because how many of us were actually living? I know I tended to have an attitude of just existing, just trying to get through the year. And that's not enough, because life is beautiful, even when bad things are happening, and we have to take notice of that. The sun still shines, the flowers still bloom, and hey, we got The Clone Wars season 7, The Mandalorian season 2, and some exciting Star Wars announcements, so 2020 wasn't all bad. We can't give up on living just because something bad and scary happened.

I absolutely don't think it's bad to have goals and things you're working towards. In fact, I think it's very important to have things you're working towards. But if you're so focused on that one obsession that nothing else even occurs to you, well, that's a problem. And you just might end up falling down a manhole.

But you know, I may work really hard all my life on writing books and never end up on the New York Times bestseller list. More than likely, that's how it'll happen. And if I'm always focused on attaining that goal, I'll be disappointed and think my life was meaningless. But if I enjoy the journey, cultivate relationships with the people in my life, and don't discount the little things in life, it'll be worth it. It's not the material goals that matter, it's the eternal. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are unseen are eternal.

And that's what I got out of Soul.

So. Things are going to look a little different around here. Namely, I'm not going to be blogging every week. It's just reality that when you've been blogging for nearly eight years, it's hard to come up with a fresh, new topic for a blog post every single week. Instead, I'm going to scale it down to twice a month. At the same time, I'm planning on upping my newsletter from quarterly to monthly.

Also, I have some plans starting this fall that will more than likely slow down writing for awhile. I'll share more once things are more concrete. Rest assured, I do not intend to give up on writing at all. I'm just not going to have enough time to write at the pace I did last year.

That said, I am working on the first draft of a pirate book that's a Time Captives spinoff about Captain Herb's son and a girl named Anthea Germainia, and I'm hoping *fingers crossed* to get another draft of Acktorek 2 at least mostly done before this fall. I've wanted to write this pirate book for about eight years, since before there were pirates in Time Captives, so I'm excited to be working on it. And of course I'm eager to get back to Emma and Mitchell, but I do need a bit of a break so that I can come at it with a fresh perspective and actually fix the problems with the draft. It'll happen. And one of these days the Crannig Castle audiobook will actually be finished too! 😉

Monday, December 14, 2020

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

It's been a long, hard year, and I know I, for one, am ready for it to be Christmas. Here's Linus with the true meaning of Christmas.

And after this year, we all definitely need a laugh. So have some Studio C. 

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, see you in January, and here's to hoping 2021 is better than 2020!

Monday, December 7, 2020

Top Ten Books of 2020

 I swear, this has been the hardest year to narrow down my top ten books.

Quick update, before I get into it...I finished draft 2 of Acktorek Book 2! Didn't quite make 50,000 words, so I didn't technically win NaNo, but I made my goal, and that's what matters. It's still messy, but it's a huge step in the right direction. My poor Emma. And Mitchell. You don't want to know what I did to him in this book...

Anyway, let's get on to my book list for the year. It was SOOOOOOO hard to narrow down. Seriously. I've read/listened to over 100 books this year and still counting. And even though a lot of them were in series and some were rereads (or relistens...Narnia...), that's still a LOT to narrow down to my top favorites. Because there were so many good ones! And I'm still not sure this list is entirely accurate, but I did my best. And there will be honorable mentions at the bottom.

So. Here goes.

10. If I Run series by Terri Blackstock

I was first introduced to Terri Blackstock this year via the Restoration series, which I very much enjoyed. I've since listened to a number of her books, all of which I've liked, but this series is my favorite, so it goes on the list. Casey Cox's DNA is all over the crime scene. It looks like she's the killer. But something just doesn't add up. And Dylan Roberts, tasked with tracking her down, is determined to find the truth. Even if it's not what the authorities want found out. This series is so intense and action packed and deep and emotional. I was listening to it while doing inventory at the library, and it definitely made the time go by faster. One of those series that made me text family members going, "Did this really just happen?" Actually, that seems to have happened a lot this year. Recommended for older teens and adults because of certain criminal and abuse situations.

9. Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

This was kind of a random read after Jill Williamson mentioned it, and I'm glad I went for it. It took me a decent portion of the book to really get oriented in the worldbuilding, but once I did, wow. Dragonriders, revolutionaries, alliances, family, secrets, past trauma, terrible decisions that need to be made, and did I mention dragons? Dragons are always awesome. Probably will need to give it a reread before the next book comes out next year, but I ended it going, "Wait, you mean I have to wait to find out what happens next?" There's a little bit of crude language, but on the whole, it's pretty clean. And super exciting. 

8. Fate of the Jedi series by Aaron Allston, Christie Golden, and Troy Denning

First time I've actually gone ahead and put Star Wars books on my top ten list. I've read so many (and I've enjoyed them so much) that how could I not? It was hard to decide which made the list, but I decided to let Fate of the Jedi win out. Even though Mara's dead at this point in the timeline. 😭😭😭 Because this series is epic. And Luke and his son Ben are just... 💕 Luke's being held responsible for Caedus, so he goes into exile to trace his steps and find out what went wrong, and sixteen-year-old Ben insists on accompanying his dad. Meanwhile, Jedi are going mad, insisting that their friends and family are all imposters, and Chief of State Nataasi Daala is enacting a plot against the Jedi, and there's the Lost Tribe of the Sith (which includes young Vestara Khai who I actually really like despite her bad decisions), and ties to the Mortis arc in The Clone Wars, and it's all pretty epic. (Plus there's Jaina Solo and Jagged Fel and I just love them.) Now, this is towards the end of the Legends novels timeline, so there's a lot of in between stuff I just know the gist of, so now I've read Young Jedi Knights and once I get through New Jedi Order, Dark Nest trilogy, and Legacy of the Force, I'll proooobably give it a reread. You know, once I actually know who everyone is. Not that I didn't (obviously) love it anyway.

7. Angel Eyes trilogy by Shannon Dittemore

This is another one I can attribute to Jill. She posted about Shannon's new book, Winter, White and Wicked. Well, it was too new to get from the library, so I decided to try her earlier books instead. And I ended up loving it. It reminds me a bit of Peretti, but it didn't freak me out the way This Present Darkness did. Not sure if it's because Angel Eyes is legit less scary or simply because I'm no longer a young teen. Anyway, it's about spiritual warfare and angels and halos and what fear does and about faith and fighting for what's right. And it's really powerful. I have to admit, I felt like the romance was a little instalove and I don't love that, but I like Brielle and Jake's pretty awesome, so I got over it. Brielle's a dancer, and while I felt like detail in that area was avoided, I still loved that she's a ballerina. It gets pretty intense and people die and it's sad, and it's awesome, and I definitely like Shannon Dittemore. Just hope I get Winter, White and Wicked for Christmas so I don't have to wait until the library decides it's no longer "new." And I don't want to know how late I stayed up Thanksgiving night finishing the last book despite being tired and having more than half the book to go. I couldn't stop reading, okay?

6. The Safe Lands trilogy by Jill Williamson

Was it really this year that I read this series? Pre-quarantine seems so long ago. First, I only recommend it for mature teens and adults because the dystopian world is quite depraved, much of the plot deals with an STD, and teen girls are kidnapped and forced into a reproductive program to (hopefully) produce uninfected offspring, and thus it deals with reproduction a lot from a scientific/biological standpoint. It's heavy stuff and not for every reader. That said. Wow. This was a pretty intense, medically focused dystopian, and I LOVE that sort of thing. Not quite sure why. But I do. Betrayal of your family, redemption, what faith really means, figuring out how to not die...the story is rushing back to me as I write this, and I don't want to give spoilers, but it was pretty awesome. A little unresolved, but I guess that's okay. It's not the kind of story you can wrap up with a neat little bow.

5. The Deceivers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Margaret Peterson Haddix remains awesome. This is the second Greystone Secrets book—the first one was in last year's list and the third will undoubtedly be in next year's—and it's just as awesome as you would expect from a Haddix book. Chess, Emma, and Finn's mom is stuck in the parallel world along with their friend Natalie's mom, Mrs. Morales, and things are about to go from bad to worse. Danger, getting stuck in other worlds, puzzles that are nearly impossible to decipher, not knowing who to trust...and things aren't over. Next book in April!

4. Thirst by Jill Williamson

Second book I read this year. And man does that seem like a long time ago! This is actually a prequel to The Safe Lands trilogy, all about what happened initially to cause all the disease and awfulness that is that trilogy. A waterborne disease has sprung up worldwide, killing people and animals alike in droves. (Yes, it freaked me out a bit to see roadkill while driving to a student's house when I was in the middle of this book.) Eli is on a church trip when everything—happens. Trying to get home with no electricity, no communication, difficulty getting gas, dead bodies literally everywhere, very little that's safe to eat or drink, and people trying to kill you over basic necessities. No run on toilet paper, though... Anyway, this book was super intense, a quick read because how do you put it down? and just awesome. Now, if only the Hunger release date would get here so I can read more of Eli's story.

3. The Healer's Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson

Melanie Dickerson is one of those authors I've been aware of for a long time, but hadn't gotten around to. (Part of that was because for a while the only one my library had was The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest and I've never been able to like Robin Hood stories...though now I've given that particular book a chance and loved it, mashed up with Swan Lake as it was.) I've been listening to a lot of books at work this year, and after my sister gave it a listen, I decided to try it. And became a tad bit obsessed with Melanie Dickerson, and very much annoyed that my library only has three of her books on eaudio. It's a historical Sleeping Beauty retelling (also not one of my favorite fairy tales), but after a few chapters I was totally invested. Some things were predictable, especially knowing that it was Sleeping Beauty, but honestly, overall it was less predictable than Cinder, and we go into fairy tale retellings for a new take on an old story, not for something brand new. I'm rambling. Anyway. This book was awesome. One of those texting-my-sister-"did-that-really-just-happen?" books. I said earlier this year that I like my romance with a side of near-death. Melanie Dickerson DELIVERS on that every time. It's a perfect blend of sweet, fluffy, fairy tale romance and people literally almost dying. It's great. And I'm almost done with my library stack, so I'm thinking I need to load up on Melanie Dickerson next.

2. The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins

If you've been following my blog this year, you're not surprised. I did a post about the series earlier this year trying to detail my love for it without giving spoilers, which was a momentous task. THIS SERIES IS SO GOOD. I mean, yes, I still love THG more, but I've also read it more times. I've always loved underground stories, and this is 100% that. And while it's not technically portal fantasy by the strictest definition, since Underland is in this world, just beneath it, it's basically portal fantasy. Gregor and his little sister Boots fall down a shaft in the laundry room and find themselves in Underland, the subjects of many prophecies, and end up going on quests and participating in fighting a war, making many friends (and also enemies), and it's just awesome and definitely a series I'm going to have to reread. But I've already said a lot about it this year, so go check that post out. "Fly you high, Gregor the Overlander."

1. Elven Alliance series by Tara Grayce

Essie! Farrendel! I need Troll Queen, like, now! Yeah, no one is probably surprised I'm putting this first on my list. BECAUSE IT IS SO AWESOME AND YOU MUST GO READ IT NOW. I read all of these as much in one sitting as is possible considering work and meals, but basically when I get a new one, I drop everything and only the most necessary things get done until I've finished it. And no, sleep does not count as a most necessary thing in this case. Essie agrees to marry an elf prince to create an alliance between her human kingdom and Farrendel's elf kingdom, and there's danger and war and kidnappings and betrayals and emotional trauma and choosing to love and FARRENDEL IS THE MOST PRECIOUS CINNAMON ROLL (though technically I guess he could kill you if he really wanted to) AND I AM GOING TO TAKE HIM AWAY FROM TARA AND WRAP HIM IN BUBBLE WRAP AND PUT HIM WHERE SHE CAN'T HURT HIM ANYMORE AND HE CAN BE HAPPY WITH ESSIE. There. Read it. And wait anxiously with me for Tara to finish writing Troll Queen. Because I need it. I'll never get enough of Essie and Farrendel. My precious babies.

Honorable mentions: Crucible and Tatooine Ghost by Troy Denning, The Warrior Maiden and The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson, The Thrawn Trilogy, The Hand of Thrawn duology and Survivor's Quest by Timothy Zahn, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, Poison's Dance by Tricia Mingerink, and the Restoration series by Terri Blackstock.

And I have to feel sorry for King's Folly by Jill Williamson and The Missing Prince by John Flanagan which I fully expect to be amazing, but will be read in December and therefore not actually make it onto a top ten list.

What are your favorite books of 2020?

Friday, November 27, 2020

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Sales!

I hope y'all had a great Thanksgiving, and those of you who are doing NaNo are on track to win! Also, officially time for Christmas music! Though I'll admit, I started listening sporadically to Christmas music before Thanksgiving...

Anyway, it's time for the yearly clean indie Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale! Dozens of ebooks for under $1, some even free! A handful of authors are also offering discounts on paperbacks. Some of my favorites, like Ilyon, Firmament, and Acktar are a part of this sale! Make sure you check it out!

Visit sale site!

Here are the specific deals I'm running.

I'm also participating in a couple other group sales! Be sure to check them out! (Note: I haven't read the other books in these promos, so I can't vouch for worldview or content.)

Children's Books Holiday Sales

Monday, November 16, 2020

NaNo Update


Yeah, I was definitely crazy to think I could pull this off. But hey, I'm 6 chapters ahead of where I was before, which puts me closer to the end of this draft. And maybe, just maybe, I'll somehow pull it out and finish draft 2 of Acktorek 2: The Vanished by the end of the month.

Honestly, I'm still not super happy with it. The plot is solidifying itself, but Emma's back to her shutting-me-out antics. 😛 Oh, Emma. Mitchell's fine, but since most of the emotional aspect of this book plays off of Emma, it's a roller coaster, and not in a good way. But this is why I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite until I get it right. And hopefully it won't take too many more drafts before it's right and y'all can continue Emma and Mitchell's story!

Now off to get more words...

Monday, November 2, 2020

It's NaNo Again, and I Might Be a Tad Bit Crazy

So a couple months ago, it was taking FOREVER for library books to come in at the second library I use. I was putting a few on hold every week, thinking they'd trickle in eventually, and well, I might get to read such and such book in a few months.

Well, then they mostly fixed the problem that was making it take so long (though I've still got one that's been in transit since AUGUST), and a BUNCH started coming in. So now my account summary looks like this:

Also, a few months ago, I decided to preorder the Royal Ranger book that comes out tomorrow. Because I've been anxiously awaiting it and scouring the internet for news about it long before it was even announced. Will and Maddie are going undercover as jongleurs! I'm so excited about it! And hoping it'll actually come today. Sometimes preorders do that.

I also put a book on hold at my main library. Which is currently sitting unread because I've got others that will be due sooner.

And then I decided to do NaNo. I need motivation to actually sit down and finish draft 2 of Acktorek 2. I fully intend to finish this draft (estimated 40,000 words) by the end of the month.

I committed to two sign waving shifts on election day, and then remembered, hey, that's during NaNo.

There'll be Thanksgiving later on this month.

I'm participating in Black Friday sales again this year.

And there are a lot of changes going on at work.

But I fully intend to get all these books read, finish this draft, fulfill my sign waving commitment, and keep up with work and teaching (I mean, I have to do that), and watch The Mandalorian every week 😉, so I very well might be crazy.

And if I'm barely around the internet this month, I'm not dead, I'm just swamped with things to get done because I'm crazy.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Acktorek Blog Tour Wrap-Up

 It's Mandalorian day!

Just had to get that out of my system. 😉

Anyway, time to recap the blog tour. (and wait to watch The Mandalorian until this evening when my whole family can watch it together...)

It's been a good week with lots of fun interviews, but I know what you really want to know about is the giveaway.

First prize, a signed paperback goes to: Penny
Second prize, an ebook, goes to: Liz K.

Congratulations! I'll be emailing you with prize information! And hopefully it won't take too long for my author copies to get here.

In case you missed any of the posts this week, here's a recap.

Book Reviews

Author Interviews

Character Interviews

Book Spotlights