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. ๐Ÿ˜ญ๐Ÿ˜ญ๐Ÿ˜ญ Because this series is epic. And Luke and his son Ben are just... ๐Ÿ’• 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?

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Interview With Carla

I have an interview with Carla today! Again, questions courtesy of my mom.

What is the thing you remember most about your early childhood? 

Spending time with Emma. *laughs* That’s still probably what I do most. But when I was little especially, Emma read to me all the time and played lots of music for me. I wouldn’t let her stop. She never liked fairy tales, but they were my favorites when I was really little. I especially loved Cinderella. Then when I was four and Emma and Grace were eight, Grace got Emma to read me A Wrinkle in Time. I was probably a little too young for it then and I didn’t understand it very well, but I loved it. Emma didn’t, but she still read it to me over and over again, and A Wind in the Door too. *sighs* Emma really would do anything for me, and she always has. I just wish I could do more for her. 

What is your favorite song to play on the piano? 

Ooh, that’s a hard one. Grieg is one of my favorite composers, since he wrote “Morning Mood” which was what made me fall in love with music. But I can’t really play Grieg concertos yet. I can’t wait until I can play his “Piano Concerto in A Minor,” though I’m not likely to get to perform it with a full orchestra. Right now, I’m working on Debussy’s “Le Petit Noir,” which is a lot of fun. There’s a lot of staccato, with your right hand directly underneath the left for part of it, and it’s just so fun. I like more than just Romantic and Impressionistic music though. I also like playing more modern music. I have my own arrangement of “Let It Go” and of “King of Love” by I Am They too. 

Do you enjoy hanging out with Grace…either with Emma, or alone? 

Grace is fun, but she and Emma argue a lot, so it’s usually more fun to hang out with just Grace. Grace read me Narnia and she finds me all sorts of musicals and film score to listen to. We have a good time. I just wish Emma would be more willing to have fun and not be so serious all the time. 

What do you do for fun? 

Listen to stories and play music mostly. Sometimes I’ll hang out with other kids from school but Mom doesn’t like that and I’m not as close to them as I am to Emma anyway. I spend a lot of time on the piano. I do work really hard at it because I want to be a concert pianist someday, but I also just really like playing. Music is amazing. There’s so much emotion in it, and it can tell a story too. I’ll improvise music for my favorite stories sometimes. Once I pretended I was composing a soundtrack for The Missing series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. It’s one of my favorite series. And if Mom’s having a good day, sometimes she’ll play duets with me. I like it when we can do that. She likes to play “The Planets” by Gustav Holst and she’s created her own arrangement of it too. 

If there was one thing you could tell Emma (that you haven’t already told her) what would it be? 

I really can’t think of anything I haven’t told Emma. I tell her everything. I’d tell her again she needs to learn how to have fun, but I’ve told her that a lot, and so has Grace. *sighs* She’s always had too much responsibility since Dad has to spend so much of his time taking care of Mom. Emma deserves some time off.

Check out today's other tour stop!
Book Review at Tricia Mingerink


Enter to win a signed copy of Acktorek: The Void! Giveaway open to U.S. residents only.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Interview With Emma


I have an interview today with Emma Edsel! My mom gave me some questions for her, and, well, we had a conversation about them. This is a peek into my writer mind. Conversations like this have happened before, sometimes while I'm working at the library...

I promise I'm not crazy!

Anyway, I'm in bold, Emma's in regular. Enjoy!

What was the hardest thing about growing up in your house?

*stares incredulously* You really think I’m going to answer a question like that? For all the world to see?

Well…your story is about to be published in a novel…

*awkward silence*

So that’s why you wanted me to talk to you…

Um, yeah. But I promise the most personal stuff won’t be public knowledge. That’s just to help me understand you better.

*glare intensifies* What’s your definition of “most personal”?

*shifts uncomfortably* …Probably slightly different from yours.

*stands up, arms folded across chest* That’s it. I’m done. I don’t know why I finally talked to you at all.

Vannie may have had something to do with that. I think she yelled at you a few times for giving me such a hard time.

That girl needs to learn to keep some things to herself.

Can’t argue with that one. But please, Emma, answer a few questions? Easier ones?

*huffs, but sits back down* Make it quick. And it better not be invasive.

This one isn’t. What is your favorite subject in school?

Science. I like biology and chemistry best, and I wish high school science would go deeper into biochemistry and molecular biology. Physics is okay. And math is dependable.

Science is pretty cool. And math is way better than foreign language. I hate foreign language. Mostly because I’m so bad at it. But I’ve always liked English and history the best.

See, this is why you don’t understand me.

I’m trying. Cut me some slack. Here’s another question. Has Grace always driven you crazy, or did this just happen in high school?

*snorts* Has Grace ever not been annoying? There’s always been one thing or another that gets on my nerves about her. I can’t get rid of her, and believe me, I’ve tried. But she has gotten worse since she and Brian started dating. She thinks all my problems would be solved if I just had a boyfriend. Stupid.

It’s not that she thinks a boyfriend would solve your problems so much as it’s that she thinks healthy relationships with someone other than Carla would be good for you. Especially if it was a relationship with someone who would take care of you. You need that. That kind of leads into the next question. Is there anyone besides Grace that you can talk to (like an adult role model)?

Really? Who would I talk to?

Grace’s mom would probably be a good option.

Not a chance.

Why not?

*glares* Because no one would understand, that’s why. And they all let you down.

What basis do you have for that statement? Has Grace’s family ever actually let you down, or are you so afraid they will that you don’t even ask? It’s hard for people to know you need help if you don’t ask for it.

I’m not going to answer that.

At least think about it?

Maybe. If you’ll stop bugging me.

Well…Just one more question and you can go.

You mean until you make me talk to you again?


You really don’t know how to leave a person alone, do you?

It’s kind of hard when you live inside my head.

Talk to Vannie. Leave me alone.

I do talk to Vannie. Problem is, she’d rather talk to me about how great it is to be married to Kyle than about what it took to get them to the place where they could get married, and that’s not helpful. But can I ask you the last question?

Fine. But I can’t promise I’ll answer.

It’s one I hope you have an answer for, but I kind of doubt you do. What do you do for fun?

*blinks* Um…I walk in the woods to the stream sometimes?

*sighs* You need a hobby.

Now you’re sounding like Grace.

Well, she’s not wrong.

I don’t have time for a hobby. Can I go now?

I guess so. Goodbye.


Check out the rest of today's posts!


Enter to win a signed copy of Acktorek: The Void! Giveaway open to U.S. residents only.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Acktorek: The Void Is Here!

Today's the day! The sun is shining! The tank is clean! And we are getting out— The tank is clean!

It's my thing. Deal with it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Acktorek: The Void is HEEEEERE!!!!!!!!! I'm so excited to finally introduce this book to the world. These characters are my babies and I put them through so much and it's been a long, hard journey to get to know Emma (and get her to not hate me), and now you can meet them properly!

I've got a small blog tour going on with reviews and author interviews and character interviews and a giveaway, so check it out!

Tour Schedule

Monday, October 26
· Tour Announcement at Morgan Elizabeth Huneke
· Book Review at Living Outside the Lines
· Author Interview at Isamonkey Reviews

Tuesday, October 27
· Book Spotlight at Jaye L. Knight
· Author Interview at Living Outside the Lines
· Interview with Emma at Morgan Elizabeth Huneke

Wednesday, October 28
· Book Spotlight at The Music of a Story
· Interview with Mitchell at Living Outside the Lines

Thursday, October 29
· Book Review at Tricia Mingerink
· Interview with Carla at Morgan Elizabeth Huneke

Friday, October 30
· Tour Wrap-Up at Morgan Elizabeth Huneke


Enter to win a signed copy of Acktorek: The Void! Giveaway open to U.S. residents only.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Introducing Carla Edsel

Carla's my baby. I want to give her all the hugs. She's a brave and selfless girl, and at almost-thirteen, she's the youngest of the three point of view characters.

She's never known a time when her mom wasn't mental and her dad wasn't emotionally distant. She wouldn't know there ever was a time when things were different if Emma hadn't told her. And Emma herself barely remembers. Emma practically raised Carla, and Carla very much looks up to her older sister. They are quite different when it really comes down to it, but they're very close even so. Emma would do anything for Carla, so even though Emma isn't much into fiction, and especially isn't into speculative fiction, Emma has read Carla numerous L'Engle and Haddix books, in addition to fairy tales when Carla was really little. Those are precious memories to Carla.

Carla loves music. Even though Emma doesn't much care for music herself, she's actually responsible for Carla's love of music. Emma was trying and failing to explain the sunrise to Carla, and remembered she'd just had Grieg's "Morning Mood" in music appreciation at school. She played the song for Carla and that was the moment Carla fell in love with music. She loves playing piano, both Baroque/Classical/Romantic music, and modern songs such as "Let It Go." She is currently learning "Le Petit Noir" by Claude Debussy for a school talent show. But she will always have a soft spot for Grieg.

Carla can be kind of a mess. While Emma's room is sparse and neat, Carla's room is full of stuffed animals and audiobooks and clothes often end up on the floor. She also has a habit of twirling her fingers in her hair if she's concentrating or nervous or just trying to think, which often knots it up.

Carla has been blind since birth. It doesn't really bother her or hold her back—it's just a fact of life. The only thing is, she does feel like it makes Emma worry about her more, and makes things harder for her. Not that Emma wouldn't worry about her if she was sighted. She would. Emma's always done so much for Carla. Carla just wishes she could do more for Emma.

Carla's relationship with Emma is extremely important to her life, but her relationship with God is first. She has a strong, unwavering faith that inspires me. She's so young, but she's selfless and wants to do what's right no matter what the personal consequences are. I want to be like Carla when I grow up.

I love Carla so much and I can't wait for you to meet her properly next week!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Introducing Mitchell Banks

Mitchell Banks is the main guy in Acktorek: The Void, and he is not from our world. (Like my post about Acktorek itself, some of this isn't actually in the book, but just a part of my development of Mitchell's character/backstory.)

He comes originally from a world called Aglion, but he currently resides in the city world of Ebraria, from which the company Acktorek operates.

Mitchell grew up in Aglion with his family: his parents and his older sister Lara who married a teacher named Tucker and had two children, Anise and Jason. Mitchell was very close to his family, and Anise especially is a huge influence in his life. Aglion puts a huge emphasis on academics, and, as they supply Acktorek with some of its greatest scientists, it's a big deal to pass the Acktorek Preparatory Program, as Mitchell did.

At fourteen, Mitchell moved to Ebraria to attend Acktorek Academy, a four-year program that trains future Acktorek agents. Like I said before, it is their main program, but they do have other training programs as well. Mitchell's preference would have been special ops (basically investigating and taking care of weird sciencey things that happen, and all in all being Force-less, lightsaber-less Jedi/Team Flash/The Doctor people, and special ops is the best name I could come up with—though I could have gone with "Daddy" as a kid my sister babysits suggested), but he ended up in breach control. Which is typically a boring go-to-this-world-and-throw-a-neutralizer-into-this-breach-before-it-gets-toxic-or-otherwise-dangerous job. Only that's not how it's turning out.

Mitchell is a kind, compassionate person, who wants to help others. He experiences doubts about his abilities and adequacy. He's very dutiful, but also determined to do what's right, even if it means disobeying a direct order. He's stubborn and determined, but also knows when to back off. He has a soft spot for little girls because they remind him of his niece, Anise. He misses his family like crazy and will never get used to living away from them in a city instead of near them in the countryside. He likes to cook, he doesn't especially like shoes (though that never comes up in the first book), and he often runs his hand through his blond hair making it stick up (it's a similar cut to BBC Arthur and Luke Skywalker). He also speaks several languages and much prefers physics to biology. He's eager to please, but he'd much rather please his Heavenly Father than his superiors at Acktorek. And he has a tendency to get injured and not bother treating the wound until someone makes him. But he will 100% make sure you don't skip any meals.

All in all, he's a great guy who was a LOT easier to develop than Emma, and I hope you like him as much as I do. And I can't wait to write more stories about him. ๐Ÿ˜Š

Monday, October 5, 2020

Introducing Emma Edsel

Technically I did a post about Emma a little over two years ago, but that was before I really got inside her head, so while that post is still mostly accurate, it's rather incomplete. Now to introduce her without giving major spoilers...

Emma is a high school senior with very little personal ambition. She has an interest in science, particularly biochemistry and molecular biology, but she doesn't feel free to pursue her own interests. She never has.

Until Emma was about four, her life was fairly normal. When her mother was pregnant with her younger sister Carla, however, everything changed. Mom went crazy, Dad became distant, and little Emma became largely responsible for bringing up her blind little sister.

Everything about Emma's life revolves around Carla. Emma's goal is to become financially independent as soon as possible so she and Carla can move out of the toxic environment that is their dysfunctional family. She wants to give Carla a stable life. And she doesn't feel that she can do that with Mom talking to people who aren't there and freaking out about nonexistent dangers, and Dad always being checked out emotionally. Carla deserves better than that.

Emma's a loner...with a best friend she can't get rid of. Grace Holland has considered herself to be Emma's best friend since they were four years old, ever since Emma spent lots of time at her house during her mom's pregnancy with Carla. The two girls are vastly different—Grace is happy, bubbly, and loves her fandoms, and Emma is angry, closed off, and thinks most fiction, especially spec fic, is stupid—but for all their differences and for all Grace never ceases to get on Emma's nerves, they still talk to each other every day and always sit together at lunch. Not that Emma has much of a choice in the matter.

Emma has no interest in boys or relationships. She's seen her parents. Sure, they love each other, but their life isn't exactly sunshine and lollipops. She doesn't want to deal with that. Nor does she have the time for a boyfriend. She has to focus on preparing to be on her own and supporting her sister. So does Grace have to keep pushing her to date? And pushing the new boy, Mitchell, on her?

Emma likes for things to make sense. To be under her control. She has a hard time accepting anything that's outside of her carefully constructed idea of how the world works. She's had so little control over the chaos that comes with her life. She has to hold onto what little control she has.

But that may not be possible.

Read an early copy of the book and help spread the word about the upcoming release!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

What is Acktorek?

In short, it's a word I made up off the top of my head that has no etymology whatsoever. ๐Ÿ˜‰

In all seriousness, though, it is (obviously) something very important to the Acktorek series.

Initially, it was a species, but then I decided to call the species Zambina (another word I'm not sure where it came from, except for maybe an subconscious twisting of Zamboni) and Acktorek instead became a company.

What kind of company? Well, to get to that, let's have a (made up) history lesson.

Note: Most of this isn't actually in the book, just in my worldbuilding notes, so it's bonus info. ๐Ÿ˜Š

Caelan Macaulay, a scientist from the world of Ebraria, invented world traveling devices. Through these devices, he gained contact with scientists from Aglion (the homeworld of Acktorek main guy Mitchell Banks), and the technology made huge leaps. Within about 16 years, the devices became available to those who could afford it, which quickly caused immigration issues, along with space/time continuum issues. The Ebrarian government placed restrictions on world travel, but damage had already been done.

Affected worlds got together and formed the Council of Worlds to determine how to handle this growing problem. It resulted in the foundation of Acktorek, and the permanence of the Council of Worlds. Both institutions are somewhat independent of each other, but yet work closely together. A little more on that when I get to how I actually came up with Acktorek.

Initially, Acktorek focused on repairing damage directly caused by world travel. Within a few decades, they began getting requests for assistance on issues not directly related to world travel, which prompted a major expansion of Acktorek's services. This expansion caused a huge influx of immigrants into Ebraria turning it into a city world that's a melting pot of species and cultures.

Acktorek has a four-year training program (which is their primary program) that typically takes students of high school age. They also have an accelerated program that takes only one year but is harder to get into. Also, they have more specialized training, and everyone is required to do some form of continuing education.

Okay, history lesson over.

So what does Acktorek do? Well, think of it this way: put the Jedi Order and Team Flash into a blender with a heaping spoonful of Doctor Who and a dash of the Wood Between the Worlds, mix it up really well, and you've got Acktorek.

First off, this isn't a parallel world story. TBH, parallel worlds only make sense if you don't think about it too hard. Like, usually so many things are so different, yet the same people got married at the same times and had babies at the same time for enough generations for you to have a doppelgรคnger? So while I do enjoy stories with alternate realities/parallel universes, I prefer the more traditional fantasy concept of other worlds...even when said worlds have technological advancements and world travel is done by technology rather than by magic.

The portal technology is somewhat similar to the technology Team Flash uses to go to parallel universes, etc. though I actually came up with mine before I started watching The Flash. And as for the sorts of situations they help with, it's also similar both to the sorts of situations dealt with on The Flash and on Doctor Who. Weird science incidents, invasions of alien-like creatures, supervillains, honestly, the imagination's the limit.

But the primary inspiration for Acktorek actually comes from the Jedi Order. I'm most familiar with the workings of the Order from Jude Watson's books, and I started there and discarded the things I didn't want (like the no attachments rule, and taking small children to train). There's also nothing like the Force, but there are species with abilities such as telekinesis and telepathy, as well as there being empaths, though I don't delve deeply into all of that in book one. (Yeah, I know it's minus so many iconic things about the Jedi, but it was still my jumping-off point, and it's not like I could copy it.) But the main way that they're like the Jedi is that their whole purpose is to serve and help others. People ask for their help, and they send agents out to do it.

How do they work with the Council of Worlds? Well, I haven't gotten too deep into it, but it's similar to the Order. Actually, it's somewhere in between the old Jedi Order and Luke's Jedi Order (Legends). Basically, not as much a slave to the government as the old Order, but not quite as independent as Luke's Order. (Though he did move them off of Coruscant because the GA oversight was getting overbearing, assigning them government observers and keeping them from helping where people really needed help. But I digress.) Acktorek does have to keep accountable to the Council of Worlds, but they don't have to run operations through them. (That would get ridiculous really fast. But I haven't exactly worked out how they get their funding either.) 

When it comes down to it, I think of Acktorek agents as something like Jedi without the Force (and unfortunately without lightsabers) who travel to other worlds to help instead of to other planets. And with more specialized divisions. (Not that there aren't any divisions within the Jedi Order, but they're not emphasized much in the media I've seen.)

So that's a snapshot of Acktorek, and a (probably very vague) idea of what you can expect from the series. But hey, go ahead and check out these worldbuilding boards. ๐Ÿ˜Š

Monday, September 14, 2020

Acktorek Cover Reveal!

The cover is finally here!!!

This is my favorite of all the covers I've made so far, and I'm super excited about it. I can't wait to be able to hold the book in my hands. ๐Ÿ˜Š

But before I give you the cover, here's the book description:

Which would you choose—save your sister or save the world? 

Emma Edsel’s first priority has always been protecting her blind sister Carla. So when Carla begins to develop science-defying abilities that threaten her life, Emma will stop at nothing to save her. With nowhere else to turn, she seeks help from Mitchell, the new boy at school who seems to know much more about it than he will admit. 

After his last mission went horribly awry, Mitchell Banks is relieved to have a simple task: seal a small, accidental portal between Earth and other worlds in the multiverse. He didn’t count on his growing feelings for Emma—and the dangerous levels of dimension energy contaminating Carla. 

Carla knows the voice in her head is evil. Manipulative. Feeding her with a strange energy she can control. She doesn’t know that she is the key to a coming global catastrophe and Mitchell’s boss will use any means possible to prevent it…including blackmailing him into murdering her.

Coming October 26!

And now...


What do you think? I really can't wait to share the book itself with you. It's definitely the one that's gotten me the closest to crying while writing, and these characters are very dear to my heart.

October 26 will be here before we know it! (And I just realized that it's the same week that season 2 of The Mandalorian premieres, so two things to be excited about!)

Check out these other reveal posts, some including interviews:

And by the way, this is my 500th blog post and the cover reveal for my 10th book, so I've got nice round numbers and two milestones. I feel like Monk would be proud. ๐Ÿ˜Š

Monday, September 7, 2020

Backstory Affects Character

Another Star Wars oriented writing post this week. ๐Ÿ˜Š

I've been watching Rebels with my family here lately, and before I get into the main point of the post, I just want to say how much I love this show. I mostly wanted to watch it because Ahsoka is in it, and so are Rex and Thrawn, but I didn't expect to love my space family so much. Seriously. I love all the Spectres 1-6 (haven't met Spectre-7 yet) so much...well, except maybe Spectre-3, AKA Chopper. Okay, I like Chopper in his own way, but he's certainly no Artoo. ๐Ÿ˜† It's just a really great show with great characters, and Ezra sassing Darth Vader is just about the best thing ever.

Today I want to talk about one particular member of the Ghost crew: Kanan Jarrus. More specifically, I want to contrast him with Rey and talk about how backstory does (or doesn't) affect character. (Kanan is awesome and he and Hera are so cute together, and I really need to get to the point of this post because I feel like I'm starting to go full on fangirl.)

Kanan is a Jedi who survived Order 66. He was raised and trained at the Jedi Temple, taken as a padawan by Depa Billaba after the Temple bombing, and escaped death in Order 66 on Kaller thanks to Master Billaba's sacrifice. He then had to learn to survive on his own as a young teenager in a new Empire where literally everyone and everything he's ever known is gone. He apparently (I'm getting this bit from Wookieepedia because literally the only comic I've ever read is "Union" [Luke and Mara's wedding, duh, of course I dug up that one] and I haven't read A New Dawn either) teamed up with a smuggler for awhile until he met Hera on Gorse and joined her on the Ghost, fighting against the Empire.

There have been multiple times throughout Rebels where I'm like "You can tell Kanan didn't finish his training." And just so many little things that show how his backstory has an effect on who he is as a character. I'm going to go through a couple things about Kanan that show that his backstory really had an effect on the way they wrote his character and the things he does throughout the series. (Well, part of the series. I'm only in season 3.)

Lightsaber skills. Kanan knows how to handle a lightsaber. But...he's certainly no Master Yoda. In fact, he's no Ahsoka, even. Ahsoka held up against an Inquisitor much better than Kanan did. Because Ahsoka had spent several years as a padawan, at the "Skywalker Academy" ๐Ÿ˜‰ and actually had quite a bit of combat experience. Kanan was only a padawan for a few months, and so had much less training and much less experience.

Early on, Kanan experiences much self-doubt in regards to teaching Ezra and tries to find another teacher for him. He never completed his training, and so he feels inadequate. But in the words of Ezra, "I don't want the best teacher. I want you."

Kanan's Force skills sometimes—to me, anyway—feel less refined than what we see out of the Knights and Masters. Like when he and Ezra overshot and threw Sabine over the edge of a cliff. Oops. Kanan's powerful, and he clearly has been trained, but it's not the same as a full-fledged Jedi Knight.

One of the things that stuck out the most to me about Kanan and his backstory is meeting Rex. Kanan has PTSD from Order 66. And Ahsoka knows it. I mean, duh. How could he not? But she's very adamant that Kanan trust her friend, and when Kanan meets Rex, he finds out why. Kanan has trouble interacting with and accepting clones after what he went through. He and Rex have a rather testy relationship for quite a few episodes. (I loved how Kanan called Hera to talk about how hard it was being around Rex.) And while I wanted Kanan and Rex to get along, I really appreciated the way it was handled. With Kanan's past, it shouldn't be easy for him to get used to being around a clone, and it's not.

This is still a season away for me.
I don't care. I'm putting it in anyway.

Finally, there are many little things about his personality and beliefs and the way he handles things that show how he was raised with Jedi ideals and he still believes in them, but he's been away from the Jedi, out in the world for a long time. Again, lacking the refinement you see in a Jedi Master like Obi-Wan or Yoda, but the core is still there. He knows the teachings, and he's got that selfless nature, but he's not as anti-attachment as the Jedi are supposed to be, and while he's not a volatile character by any means, he isn't as generally calm and composed as the aforesaid Jedi Masters. It's a lot of things in the nuances of his personality. And I really love how you can tell watching him that he was raised as a Jedi and is no longer a part of the Order.

"Do or do not, there is no try."
"What does that even mean? How can I do something if I don't try to do it?"
"Well, see...actually, that one always confused me too, but Master Yoda sure used to say it a lot."

Now to talk about Rey.

Rey actually has a really good characteristic moment/introduction. Scavenging the old star destroyer, going to Unkar Plutt for her portions, going back to her home in the old AT-AT, scratching another mark into the wall. It shows how alone she is, how she has no one, no friends, she's been abandoned, but she's counting the days expecting her parents to return. It sets her up as a loner who trusts no one and has no friends, who relies on herself to survive. It sets her up to be an interesting, complex character.

The problem with Rey is follow through. The only real follow through we get on this impression we get from her introduction is her desire to go back to Jakku...until Maz tells her "they're not coming back." This loner whose sum purpose in life is to survive on Jakku until her parents come back for her befriends multiple people, joins the Resistance, develops Jedi skills, and devotes herself to the selfless cause of saving the galaxy from Snoke/Kylo Ren/Palpatine with little apparent motivation.

Let's look at some of the particulars. Rey's been alone on Jakku since she was a little girl. She's not unaware of the other beings around her, but she has no relationships with any of them. But then it takes very little convincing for her to take in BB-8. Sure, she and Finn escape the stormtroopers together, but there's not really any reason for them to become attached to each other the way they do so quickly. And this is coming from a Finn/Rey shipper. She just met this guy. It doesn't take much for her to start seeing Han as a father figure, and because why? In-universe all I can come up with is that she admires his smuggling exploits. But I highly suspect it's simply because he's the main one of the Big Three in TFA and she's the protagonist. She appears to fairly quickly develop a connection with Leia and Chewie, some sort of strange connection with Kylo Ren where she's determined to bring him back to the light, she stubbornly refuses to give up on Luke, she's friends with Poe...and we're supposed to think she's always been a loner? If she struggled to accept being a part of this Resistance family, it would make sense with her backstory and be more earned. Or if we saw that she was the kind of person who befriended people/helped people regularly. Or if she was Luke or Leia's kid. But it doesn't match up.

Then there's her powers and abilities. Literally every other Force user we've ever seen in Star Wars had to be trained. Light side and dark side, Jedi, Sith, Sith Assassin, you name it. They trained. Rey doesn't get any training until Leia trains her at the beginning of The Rise of Skywalker. (Luke's "three lessons" aren't real Jedi training.) Yet Rey is able to figure out how to do a Jedi mind trick without ever even having the skill modeled for her. How does she know what that is? How does she know how to levitate rocks, something Luke struggled to do with training? The most Ezra did without training was a reflexive Force push in a moment of strong emotion. And honestly, Rey can do whatever Force power the plot requires. With no training. It could have been explained if we found out she'd trained at Luke's Jedi academy before she was taken to Jakku or something like that. But instead she has magical powers that come out of nowhere.

When I'm working with a kid I'm tutoring in creative writing, the question I ask her most about her story is "why?" Why did this plot element happen? Why did this character do this thing? Why is the character invested in the story? The characters have to have motivation for the things they do, and said actions should be integral to the plot. Character arc and plot should be so closely interwoven that you can't determine which is influencing which. Rey (and nearly all the characters in the Sequel Trilogy, TBH) just feel like chess pieces being moved through a predetermined plot. Especially in TROS.

Why does Rey join the Resistance? I guess she has nothing better to do now that she's accepted her parents aren't coming back? And she's the protagonist, so she has to, I guess. Why does Rey want to become a Jedi? Because she's the protagonist and she's Force sensitive? Why does she want to bring Kylo Ren back to the light? Because they're trying to mirror the Original Trilogy? Why is she putting her life on the line constantly to save the galaxy when all she ever wanted was to survive on her own until her parents come back? We're not even given a "because I'm one of the idiots who lives in it" answer, which is, btw, my favorite answer to that type of question. ๐Ÿ˜† She doesn't grow from being someone who only looks out for herself into someone self-sacrificing. She just suddenly changes once she discovers she has information the Resistance needs.

Why did Luke want to be a Jedi? Because he wanted to be like his father. (Not his fault he didn't know his dad was actually sad murder dad Darth Vader.) Why does Kanan want to fight the Empire? They destroyed everything about his life. And actually, he doesn't want to be a part of a real war because he did that as a kid in the Clone Wars, and it was traumatizing. He agrees to join the Rebellion rather than just independently being a troublemaker because it's what Hera wants and they're "very close friends." Hera wants to fight the Empire because of what they did to her homeworld of Ryloth, and it's not enough for her to just gain freedom for Ryloth. Why did Anakin turn to the dark side? Because he kept having visions of Padmรฉ dying and his trusted mentor Palpatine convinced him that turning to the dark side was the only way he could become powerful enough to save her. Though we all know how that turned out. Why did Ahsoka help out Trace and Rafa? Because as a Jedi she was raised to be compassionate and selfless and to give aid to all who needed it. It was trained into her since she was three years old.

I really could keep on going, and maybe at some point I will write a post on how character and plot work hand in hand, but I think I'll stop now.

Let's leave it at this: Backstory should always affect character. And in plot, character, motivation, etc. you must always ask why.

Have another Kanera gif. ๐Ÿ˜

Monday, August 31, 2020

Every Character Counts (+ Acktorek Cover Reveal Sign-Up)

The cover reveal for Acktorek Book 1: The Void will be in 2 weeks! Mark your calendar for September 14! If you want to help share the cover on your blog and/or social media, fill out this form:

Now, onto the main post. I saw this on Pinterest a couple weeks ago and it struck me as interesting.
Dexter Jettster was the person who identified the toxic dart for Obi-Wan after he ran into a dead end with the Temple droids. This set off a chain reaction that sent Obi-Wan to Kamino where he discovered the clone army, met Jango, followed him to Geonosis, discovered the beginnings of the Separatist plot, sent a message to Anakin, got captured, and then Anakin, Padmรฉ, and a bit later, the Jedi and the clones showed up and the first battle of the Clone Wars happened. Dex is an important link in the chain of events that led to the Clone Wars. Without him, the clone army wouldn't even have been discovered, and then who knows what would have happened.

Phasma, on the other hand...well, she taunts Finn a couple times, and deactivates the shields on Starkiller Base at blasterpoint. Take out Phasma, and not much really changes, except we lose the trash compactor joke and Han and Finn have to take down the shields the old fashioned way with an astromech or some detonators.

Contrasting the two characters and their effect on the plot was interesting to me, especially given that in one scene, Dex had a much larger effect on the plot than Phasma did throughout several scenes. And it made me think: every character should be there for a reason.

Quick side problem with Phasma is more with the marketing than with the character itself. The marketing made her seem like she was going to be a big deal character with an important role, and she turned out to be a minor character whose role was essentially to be Finn's superior when he was a stormtrooper. It is a role with a purpose, but it's not a role the marketing, and the fact that she was constantly at cast interviews, made me expect.

Every character should have an important role to play in the plot. They should have an actual reason to be there. Otherwise, they're just clutter.

Don't add characters just because they're cool, or because you "need" more female characters (or to fulfill any other PC "requirement"), or because you just want your character to have a big family (this one is a weakness of mine). Readers and viewers don't need a huge cast of characters that don't actually need to be there to keep track of.

For instance, in my original concept of Creighton Hill, the Hubbards had twelve kids and Joey was the only boy (Allan didn't exist at the time). But that was just too much. And all those extra older sisters had no effect on anything. So they vanished. Not saying all the Time Captives themselves had an important role...I tried, but there are a couple who are mostly just there to fulfill the pattern, which is not a good reason to add a character.

Say what you want about Jar Jar Binks, but if you think about it, he actually does have an important role to play in The Phantom Menace. Without Jar Jar, there's no alliance with the Gungans, and no army to keep the droids occupied long enough for the Naboo to retake Theed Palace and for Anakin to destroy the droid control ship. (And there's also no character gullible enough to give Palpatine emergency powers whose also in that circle, but anywho...) Jar Jar wasn't just randomly thrown in there. He was there for a reason. Not his fault the majority of people think he's annoying. (I personally like Jar Jar, though I'm not sure I needed to know that he had a girlfriend. Not as bad as Sy Snootles and Zirro the Hutt, though. ๐Ÿ˜›)

Sometimes a character's role is important because they are impacting the main character. Whether that's influencing them to be a kinder, more considerate person (Mater and Lightning McQueen), or planting seeds of the dark side (Palpatine and Anakin), they're playing an important role in the main character's journey. And sometimes they're actually the one orchestrating the plot of the entire saga behind the scenes. Literally the "grand plan" as it was called in Darth Plagueis by James Luceno.

Also, when you need a role fulfilled, before you create a brand new character, you should consider whether you have a character already who can fill that role. Like in Time Captives when I realized Anna was making things, well, not very interesting, I swapped her out on the adventure with the already existing Emily. I didn't create Emily to add conflict on the journey. In fact, the concept of an annoying fourteen-year-old sister is one of the few things that has been there since the beginning. I had a role I needed filled, and I had a character ready made. I just had to plug her in. (Now, I probably could have cut Anna altogether without losing anything other than the ice cream joke, but I didn't, so oh well.)

Now about minor characters and extras. Minor characters are going to be your tiny role characters that pop in to do a little thing for our main cast and then pop back out. But it's a role that someone has to do. Like Ric Oliรฉ in The Phantom Menace. Padmรฉ had to have a pilot. His name was Ric Oliรฉ. He flew her ship and Anakin hung out with him on the way to Coruscant, and that was about it, but without Ric Oliรฉ, they wouldn't have had a pilot. Or Taun We in Attack of the Clones. Her part is small, but she's one of the Kaminoan cloners, which if you know anything about the Prequel Trilogy and the Clone Wars, you know that's a pretty darn important role. Very small, but important. And she made me so mad in The Clone Wars series when she was helping cover up Order 66 when Fives found out and then Fives ended up dying and ๐Ÿ˜ญ๐Ÿ˜ญ๐Ÿ˜ญ. Point is, though, these characters were there for a reason.

You're probably not going to have extras as much in a book as in a movie or TV show, since those are just the people in the background, and it's a little harder to just have people hanging out in the background unnoticed in a book. Since, you know, you actually have to mention them for them to exist in the mind of the reader. But say there's a crowd. Those people in the crowd are just there to flesh out the background. Don't really add to the plot. They're just there to make it look realistic. Like most of the clones. Or a lot of the Jedi at the First Battle of Geonosis.

The thing in Star Wars, though, is that they liked to give all the extras/people with teeny tiny parts names and then people would use those extras in other media and they wouldn't actually be extras anymore. Like Luminara Unduli, Barriss Offee ๐Ÿ˜ฌ, "Dad" Plo Koon, Yaddle, Adi Gallia, Aurra Sing, Commander Cody, Wedge Antilles...I could go on. (Though Luminara and Barriss actually were major characters in The Approaching Storm by Alan Dean Foster which came out as a prequel to Attack of the Clones.)

A few last points before I go. Don't introduce a bunch of new characters in the last installment of a series unless they're absolutely essential. There's already so much going on, and you won't have time to delve into all these new characters' stories and still do justice to what you've already got going. *cough* The Rise of Skywalker *cough* Something's going to give. You don't need extra loose ends to tie up that you didn't actually have to introduce at all. And finally, please, for the love of all expectations, don't act like your minor characters are major characters. Minor characters absolutely have a place, but don't hype them up to be something they're not.

And if your minor characters somehow generate a fan base (Wedge Antilles, Admiral Piett), well, it happens. I mean, I was super excited by Wedge's cameo in The Rise of Skywalker, and he did have a pretty significant role in Legends. ๐Ÿ˜