Monday, January 29, 2018

Book Spotlight: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

My first vlog is here! I talk about one of my all time favorite books: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Comment below on how you feel about The Chronicles of Narnia and whether or not you feel like Disney did a good job on the movies.

Monday, January 22, 2018

What Is Your Life Goal?

I want to write a bestselling book.

I want to have a successful music studio.

I want to see my books made into faithful movies.

I want to get married and raise a family.

But what if?

What if I never hit any kind of amazing sales ranking on Amazon?

What if I never get any more music students or have to stop teaching altogether?

What if my books never attract enough attention for anyone even to consider a film adaptation?

What if I never get married?

What if I do get married, but can't have children?

Would my life then be, as Anne would say, "a perfect graveyard of buried hopes"?

It shouldn't be.

Via Pinterest

It's not bad to want to be successful as a writer and music teacher. It's not bad to desire to be a wife and mother. I would go so far as to say that in many cases those are all very good desires. But if those are my end goals, I've got a problem. If my goals are ends in themselves, I'll always come up empty.

If I'm going to continue as a writer, I need to do it because that's how God wants me to serve Him.

If I'm going to continue teaching music, I need to do it because that's how God wants me to serve Him.

If I'm going to get married and raise a family, I need to do it because God has no longer called me to serve Him as a single person.

And if He stops calling me to the things He's called me to now, I can't hold onto them. I have to let them go and serve Him in my new calling.

So if you want to be a writer, don't do it because you like to write. Do it because that's how God calls you to serve Him.

If you want to be a lawyer, don't do it because you like the law. Do it because that's how God calls you to serve Him.

If you want to work at Hobby Lobby, don't do it because you love retail and crafts. Do it because that's how God calls you to serve Him.

If you want to be a wife and mother, don't do it because you're in love and can't wait to have kids. Do it because that's how God calls you to serve Him.

God calls us all to different things. God places us all in different circumstances throughout our lives. God calls us to serve Him in different ways in every season of our lives. We can't hold onto our plans because that's what we want to do. We can't sit around waiting for that next season of life because that's the one we want the most. We have to serve God now, in every season, in every circumstance, in every way He places before us.

And that should be our life goal.

Via Pinterest

Monday, January 15, 2018

Update of Randomness

So life is busy, and my brain isn't really doing a good job of being profound at the moment, so I'm going to be fun instead and tell you however many random things pop into my mind.

My dog likes milk. A long time ago, I started giving her a little of my milk in her dog food, but stopped when it stopped interesting her. Lately, she's remembered about it, and barks at me when I've finished eating my breakfast until I give her milk. She also takes a joint supplement (which we squirt down her throat and then give her a treat afterwards) which she WILL NOT let us forget.

We're putting in a state park-like trail through the woods in our backyard. It's cool. I'm just not looking forward to the snakes in the summer.

Weather is crazy. Normally, GA winter temperatures are in the 50s, maybe 40s (at least, that's how it was growing up). This winter, it's been below freezing A LOT...except last week, where we had several days of 50s and 60s, only to drop drastically again.

I'm getting a sort of Wrinkle in Time/Wind in the Door vibe out of the beginning of my latest book, Acktorek. I'm still not very far yet, so I don't know how it'll turn out, but I really like my MC Emma Edsel.

I'm taking piano again, which is awesome. I just need to find a way to keep improving my violin skills.

I made groundhogs at the library. It was a lot of fun, especially on a slow Saturday. Except that I messed up the text on the speech bubbles and had to redo it on Monday before I put them up.

I finally started playing around with my digital recorder to figure out how to get the best audio quality, and I think I might have it figured out.

I'm doing ballet for exercise. I know, I'm weird. I found barre exercises on YouTube, and I'm doing them a few times a week to get back in shape. Being sore for days after a practice dance isn't okay, and neither is being in pain at Disney World because you're not used to so much walking.

Teaching is awesome. My students are fantastic, and I'm not stressed so much about keeping ahead of my most advanced piano students now that I have a teacher myself.

Adult life is too busy. Having several jobs and volunteer commitments is too crazy, but I make it work. Sort of, anyway. And this is why I'm not in college. Where would I fit it in? Besides the fact that saving money is more worthwhile to me long term than paying for a degree I'm not intending to use.

And life is an adventure. There are ups and downs, happiness and struggle, good and bad, but if you live life to bring glory to God, it's all worth it.

Monday, January 8, 2018

My Problem With Writing How-To

The How To How To Write a How To Book book by Howie Bookman.

If you know what I'm talking about, you're awesome. If you don't, you're seriously Studio C deprived.

Via Pinterest

Writing how-to is an interesting animal. It can be very useful, but, in my experience, it can also be very problematic. On one hand, it can be a great way to help you figure out what's wrong with your book. On the other hand, it can cause the idea that there's only one way to structure a story, only one way to create a character arc, only one writing style that's "acceptable," only one basic formula per genre or subgenre, and if you aren't following it, you're doing it wrong, your book is terrible, and no one will ever want to read it.

Maybe it's just my analytical monster that takes writing how-to to this extreme, but when you look at all the formulaic plots and characters that are just carbon copies of other characters, I'm not so sure. Granted, it often happens when a writer has written 50+ books and they just keep reusing their own old plots and characters, but it's not exclusive to those situations. How many times have books gotten the reputation of being a knock off of such and such popular book? Yes, that worked for the original author, but that doesn't mean it's the only way to write a book. That doesn't meant that it has to become the conventional wisdom all the writing how-to spouts off.

Writing how-to can be useful. It can absolutely identify your weaknesses as a writer and give you ideas on how to improve. And that is important. If you're not growing as a writer, learning more about the craft and implementing it well, you may end up with 100 books that are pretty much exactly like your last one, just with the names changed. Grow as a writer. Learn more. Read more books to absorb different techniques and styles. It's a good thing. 

However, often writing how-to trends go too far. They make it one-size-fits-all. Well, I've got news for you. One size doesn't fit all. Yes, stories need a beginning, a middle, and an end. There needs to be a climax towards the end. The plot threads need to weave together to make sense and not just be a bunch of red herrings. (The Quagmires were in the literal red herring, Baudelaires! I saw that one coming.) Sorry. Tangent. 

Via Pinterest

But every story doesn't have to follow an exact structure. I've tried plotting by a strict 3 act structure with well defined plot points and everything. That works fabulously for some people. But not for me. It becomes too structured, and feels dry. It's not fluid and natural enough. It feels like I'm just hitting predetermined points and not letting the story take me there. Yet some people act like that's the only way to create a storyline. There are other methods of story structure. And it's okay if your major plot developments don't happen at precise percentages within the book. Did I learn a lot of value from studying that method of story development? Yes. Do I regret it? No. Am I going to be strictly following it in the future? Absolutely not. Because it didn't work for me. That doesn't make it wrong. It makes it a bad writing method for me. And it's just as wrong for me to tout it as a bad way to write a story as it is for someone to tout it as the only right way to structure a story.

Deep character point of view is another thing that's supposedly the only "right" way to write these days. And if your story is set up so that you're supposedly in your main character's head, but you're really not, then you've got some work to do. But just because deep character point of view is one good way to narrate a story, and a popular one, that doesn't mean it's the only way to do it. Look at A Series of Unfortunate Events for example. Lemony Snicket is narrating the events in the lives of the Baudelaire orphans as he found them when he researched it. (Lemony Snicket is actually the penname of Daniel Handler and somewhat of a character in the series, therefore a plot/narration device.) You never actually have, say, Violet's mental process running through your head as the narration of the story. There is no deep character point of view. Does that mean it's badly written? Absolutely not. It just means a different style of storytelling was suited to the series. It simply wouldn't be the same if you were viewing the whole story through Violet's eyes while in her head.

In a nutshell, my problem with writing how-to is this: It gives off the impression that there's only one way to write a book, when really there are infinite ways.

If we all structured our stories exactly the same way...

If we all caused our characters to follow the exact same progression in their character arcs...

If we all narrated our stories in the exact same way...

We'd all be writing the exact same book over and over and there would be no point.

Besides, all the writing tropes that are "right" right now are going to change down the road anyway. They always do.

Yes, learn all you can about the writing craft. Learn from the masters. Learn all the different ways you can structure a story, plan a story, develop a character, narrate a book... But if it doesn't work for you, don't try to force it. Don't try to follow a specific method just because it's "in" or because someone you admire swears by it. You are an individual writer, and you don't need to fit into a box. And who knows, your method may become the next big thing.

Via Pinterest

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 In Review

Welcome to 2018! I can't believe it's already here. 2017 was an interesting year to say the least, and I'm looking forward to seeing what 2018 holds.

To start off, about half my library branch retired at the end of last year, meaning a new boss and new coworkers. It's been different for sure, and interesting. This fall, we had one of my newer coworkers and the new youth coordinator who took some of her duties decide to move one after the other, which is sad, and now we're looking for a brand new youth coordinator. I've been told I should apply, but I'm barely keeping up with life as it is, and I'm not THAT crazy.

I found the earliest map of Calhortea while cleaning out my desk in January, which was a trip down memory lane. That world sure has changed.

Original Version of Calhortea

I added another student to my music studio at the beginning of the semester. She's a really fun kid, and I've really enjoyed working with her.

I also started a Bible study for elementary school-aged girls. Over the course of the year, we studied the Fruit of the Spirit and learned knitting, crocheting, and various sewing projects. It took me out of my comfort zone in a good way, and it's been really great. I've learned a lot, and really loved pouring into these little girls.

Materials for a Bible Study Sewing Project and Music Planning

Kendra E. Ardnek held the first annual Indie e-Con, which I participated in. That was fun.

My sister made a pie for Pi Day. Because of course we had to celebrate it.

I participated in another convention cycle. And actually, my work schedule worked out so that I could go to precinct, county, and district this year, which was great. I'd only been able to go to county last year.

My congressman threw out the first pitch at one of the first baseball games in Atlanta's new stadium and we got to go. I don't really care about baseball, but it was fun to hang out with our friends. And yes, I brought a book. Yes, I know I'm a dork. I wanted to read In Over Their Heads by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

I tried to write the third draft of the Cassie story, but it kind of didn't work. The writing style was all over the place, from terrible head hopping to Dickens, and the story was sort of messy too. So I stopped. I wrote the sequel to Espionage instead, which was an adventure. I tried to write it as a middle grade, but it just wasn't working. It really needs to be a YA. Still, I managed to get most of a first draft written. I say most because there was a good bit of summary. It needs to be three or four times as long as it is now, more fleshed out, and include more points of view, but it'll be great when I rewrite it.

My middle sister graduated from high school, I helped out at a dance, and I had my first recital for my students. They all worked very hard and did a great job. I was very proud of them. Then my parents went out of town for a week, and we survived. There was even a tornado while they were gone, which was scary, but we made it. Also during that week, my sister and I catalogued and arranged by difficulty all of our piano books. We have a LOT of piano books. I have made slight adjustments to where a few books are placed, but on the whole, it's been very helpful. It also keeps the music room a bit neater.

Sorting and Cataloguing in Progress

Summer was overall pretty great. I had time off from teaching to regroup and plan for the next semester, including the aforementioned cataloguing, we had many fun game nights and movie nights with friends, and my mom and I went on a girls' trip up to Charlotte for one weekend to visit some very good friends who moved away. My friend Destiny and I stayed up way late both nights talking and playing music, we went to lunch and got stuck in a storm blocks away from our cars, and we went to a play Destiny was in. It was a WWII retelling of the story of Hosea and Gomer, and Destiny was the female lead. It was really good, and really powerful, and it made me cry, which is very rare for stories and just goes to show how good it was. It was a great trip, and definitely one of the highlights of my summer.

Me, Destiny, and Her Costar "Willie"

I recorded an audiobook of Creighton Hill over the course of the year, but decided the quality wasn't what I was looking for, so eventually I broke down and bought better equipment. Unfortunately, I just haven't had time to sit down and figure it all out.

In August, I released Twisted Dreams along with Kendra E. Ardnek's Poison Kiss and Rachel Roden's Rosette Thornbriar. We had a blog tour and it was great and if you follow my blog, you already know all about it. Here's a picture of the three books anyway.

Also in August, I started two new piano students. I hadn't started anyone from the beginning in years, so it was a learning experience for me as well. I decided to try the Bastiens method, since that seems to be most popular in my circles, and it was great until we hit note reading. Maybe I'm just teaching that method wrong, but it didn't work. In my opinion, Bastiens be like "Here's ten new notes. Memorize them. Oh, you don't have anyone at home to help you remember what they are? Too bad. Practice anyway."

So I switched them over to Step by Step by Edna Mae Burnam. Step by Step be like "Here's C. This is what C looks like on the staff and on the keyboard. Now lets practice C until you can see it on the staff and play it on the keyboard without thinking about it, and then we'll add D. You're not sure you'll remember where to find C when you go home? Here's a handy picture to help you out." Step by Step is somewhat theory-light, but that can be easily fixed by supplementing with a separate theory book. I'm glad to say they've been thriving on Step by Step, and enjoying the Christmas music and Star Wars songs I gave them as well. It's been great and I really enjoy teaching them.

I also made two pairs of jean shorts around the end of August. And yes, I was practically fangirling over the topstitching. They really look like real jeans!

In September, we had a hurricane, which didn't honestly do a whole lot of damage at my house, but I was glad the library closed for it anyway, since I was sick and didn't want to have to call in.

Then we went to Disney! I prefer the week after Thanksgiving to the end of September, but Disney is still Disney. I wrote two blog posts about our trip (Part One. Part Two.), so I won't rehash it all here, but Disney is great.

I also planned myself some school. Don't laugh. I got tired of not pushing myself academically, and I have a lot of things I want to learn, so I decided to do school. It was great for most of the semester. I learned a lot and I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, my always trying to DO ALL THE THINGS is crazy and can't last. Towards my last few weeks of school, I just had too much to do what with making new formals for a Christmas dance, making the dance cards, and all my regular stuff, and when you only have so much time in the day, the commitments others are counting on are the priority and something has to go. I still intend to finish up that schoolwork, but at a slower pace. Something a little more reasonable. But it was great while it lasted.

Post-Disney, we went on a camping trip with some friends, then had Thanksgiving with those same friends, watched a Christmas parade, my sister and I played Mannheim Steamroller's arrangement of "Stille Nacht" at the mall, we had a church Christmas party, and then there was the Christmas dance. The dance was an adventure for sure. When we arrived to set up in the afternoon, there were painters still at work. Thankfully—and definitely by God's grace—with a lot of hard work and a good bit of air freshener, by the time people began arriving, you never would have been able to tell that things hadn't exactly gone according to plan.

We had a snowstorm. In Georgia. In December. Seven inches. This doesn't happen. Global warming, right? 😜 But at least we got to stay in and watch White Christmas.

We went to visit family for Christmas, so we had our own Christmas a few days early and went to see The Last Jedi. For the most part, I really liked it, but there were a few things towards the end that I really didn't like, so I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about it. Then we drove up to Indiana, and fit all our family gatherings plus travel time into a total of four days, since that's all I had off from the library. It was good to see family, but I'm glad to be back home again.

Now I'm finishing up the year with a wonderful cold. Because it's so much fun to be up half the night blowing your nose. Yippee. It's not the worst cold I've ever had, though, so I'm grateful for that.

And now 2018! I'm looking forward to this next year. I'll be taking piano lessons again for the first time in about six years, and I'm very excited about that. I'm looking forward to this next semester with my students and another recital. They're all great kids, a pleasure to teach, and I'm truly blessed to have them in my life. I'll still be at the library until my music studio takes off, likely. I'm going to be continuing Bible study, and hopefully staying well ahead on writing the lessons.

On the author front, I hope to record and release a Creighton Hill audiobook. As far as actual writing goes, I want to spend the first few months of the year writing a newer story called Acktorek, and then tackle the rewrite of the Espionage sequel. I'm also seriously thinking about rewriting a picture book I wrote as a kid for release this year. It'll be a good bit of work, but I'm hoping to pull it off with my sister's help. Other than that, I don't know what my 2018 is going to look like, but I'm hoping for a good year.

Happy New Year!