Monday, April 12, 2021

A New NaNo Snippet

Yup, it's NaNo again, which means...I don't have an actual blog post. Nothing profound to say because I'm pounding the keyboard to get half of this draft done by the end of the month. Planning to try to keep up the pace through May to finish it, but we'll see. My brain is usually pretty done at the end of NaNo. 

I'm working on the third draft of Acktorek Book 2: The Vanished. It's going pretty well, I think I've finally figured out some things that didn't make sense before, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.

Not every day has been amazing, but I've managed to stay ahead so far this time and write every day. Which is rare. Reaaaally hoping to get that "update your word count every day" badge.

Follow my Instagram for my progress...I've been posting my word count almost every day in my story with little updates. But here's what we're looking like right now. (Technically, these screenshots are from yesterday.)



Here, have a snippet.

I pull a flat square out of my backpack and look around for a place to stick it. The sensor will bond to any surface, so that’s not a problem. But it’s not so hardy that if people constantly walk into it or if something falls on it, it won’t be damaged. It’s sensitive equipment. Problem is, I’m not really all that sure the storefront won’t fall over, or at least that the poor excuse for an awning won’t collapse on top of wherever I put it.

“Is you ’ere from Acktorek?”

My gaze snaps to the speaker: an unbearably thin girl with skimpy, shimmery red braids and dirt smeared over her dark face. Her dress is so tattered and patched and stained it’s impossible to tell what color it used to be. Somehow she looks bright and hopeful. And definitely the friendliest person I’ve seen here. She can’t be any older than six. Which puts her squarely in the risk category. From what factors we know. I know we’re missing something crucial. Hopefully something that excludes this little girl. I don’t like the way my heart constricts looking at her.

“Yes, I am.” I do my best to answer her calmly and gently, mostly trusting my translator will get that across. “My partner and I are here to help you. My name is Emma.”

“Me name’s Gia. What’s that?” She points a bony finger at the sensor.

“This . . .” I hesitate, not sure how to explain it to her. Then I just lower my hand so Gia can get a better look. “This will, um, sense what’s happening around here so we can figure out why people are disappearing.” If we knew what we’re looking for. Hopefully it’s obvious. Though I don’t really want more kids to have to vanish just so we can figure it out.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Emma Calls the Shots

I've long since learned that it's wise to listen to Emma Edsel.

She's a very temperamental character, tbh, so if she's in a cooperating mood, I have to jump on it. So I'm going from the pirate book back to Acktorek. Not that I don't want to write the pirate book, but Emma's ready for me to come back, and I'm ready to go back to her, and honestly, my emotional connection to Emma and Mitchell is a lot stronger than my emotional connection to Anthea and Edmund. I'll come back to the pirate book. But Emma's ready, and I can't let the opportunity pass.

Now, of course, I decided to go back to Acktorek in the middle of a really crazy week, so I'm not very far yet, but I'm liking this rewrite so far. Fingers crossed that it'll be the last major rewrite and I'll just be able to edit after this, but...we'll see. Emma may be ready for me to come back to her story, but she's still a complete mess, and so it's quite difficult to get right. And emotionally draining. But worth it.

And hey, audiobook recording for The Void is going well. And so is cosplay progress. My tunic, tabards, and obi are complete, and I've finished dyeing the fabric for my sister's and started on hers. Well on our way to transforming into Anakin and Obi-Wan! No, no pictures yet. But there will be. Possibly with photoshopped lightsaber blades, since I just have a hilt I had 3D printed at the library. Which is still cool.

Here, have the beginning of draft three of Acktorek: The Vanished. Probably won't be exactly like this in the published version, but here's the current version!

I hate graduations.

This one isn’t technically as bad as my last one. That one was open ended. This one gets me a job. But that job is one I really don’t think I can do.

Yes, I’ve trained for it. I’ve technically passed all the milestones, all the tests, all of everything. Mitchell thinks I’m ready. My therapist, Dr. Wilset, says it’s good for me to do.

But I can’t. They don’t know. They don’t know how badly I’ll fail. How badly I’ve already failed when it really, really mattered.

Oh, they say it wasn’t my fault. I go along with it. But it was. I didn’t do my job. I failed in my most important responsibility.

And I might know science. I’ve learned a lot of fascinating things at Acktorek Academy. I might have done well at logic and deductive reasoning. I might be just paranoid enough to be good at spotting deception. And I might have picked up the defense techniques pretty easily.

But that doesn’t mean that when it comes time to save the people I care about I won’t fail.

Just like I did last time.

P.S. BTW, watch Timeless. It's awesome.



Monday, March 8, 2021

Like and Equal Are Not the Same Thing

Ever since I first read A Wrinkle in Time when I was seven years old, that has been one of my favorite (if not my top favorite) quotes from the book. The moment of the actual quote may be brief, just like the entire climax 😜, but it's a culmination of the entire book.

"Like and equal are not the same thing at all!"
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

It's good to be different.

We are all equal. No one's life has more intrinsic value than another's. Everyone matters just as much as the next person, regardless of age, gender, race, religious beliefs, political views, socioeconomic status, health, class, IQ...any other label you can put on a person. Sure, I may personally care more about my sister than the random person I just passed on the street, but that doesn't mean that random person is of inherent less value than my sister. They're not. We are all equal before God.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

But equal is not alike. Not one person on this earth is exactly the same as any other person in the past, present, and future of this world. See, on Camazotz, everyone was the same. And Meg, who hated being different, might initially find that attractive. But it's good to be different.

In this world, we look at presidents and CEOs and movie stars and think they have more value than the plumber we hired to fix the toilet. But that isn't true.

We look at foreign missionaries and think they have more value than those of us who minister to our sphere of influence at home. They don't.

We look at bestselling authors and think they have more value than that indie author we just bought a book from. They don't. 

See, like and equal are not the same thing.

We might look at people we admire and want to be like them. But we shouldn't. We can admire traits in people. We can learn from who they are. But we don't need to be exactly like them, because that's not who God made us to be.

"When I grow up, I want to be just like you."
"When you grow up, you should be just like you."
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

We all have a different role to play, one that fits together with the roles of those around us.

We are all different members of the body of Christ and that's the way it's supposed to be. If our role is completely different from someone we admire, that's actually a good thing. It doesn't mean we're wrong, or that person's wrong, or that one or the other has a more important job to do. We are all equal, but we are not alike.

And that's the way it's supposed to be.

"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." —1 Corinthians 12:12-27

Monday, February 22, 2021

Agree to Disagree

In today's culture, we seem to have lost the fine art of agreeing to disagree. Actually agreeing to disagree.

No one agrees 100% on everything with any one other person. My sisters and I are close, and we agree on a lot, but we don't agree on everything. For instance, my middle sister prefers LOTR to Narnia, but Narnia is more special to me than LOTR. (I do love LOTR, though, and my sister's preference for it might be because I made her watch The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe five hundred million times.) Even couples with a great marriage who are on the same page on a lot of things don't agree 100% on everything. For instance, my mom loves broccoli and my dad won't eat it.

But my sisters and I don't get into heated arguments about whether Narnia or LOTR is better. My parents don't fight over whether my dad should eat certain vegetables (though we do make sure he gets some vegetables because we want him around for a good long time).

I was raised Presbyterian in Baptistville, and so I'm around a lot of people I disagree with on certain fine points of theology. I'm reformed, I have dear friends who are not. We don't have arguments about the doctrine of election.

I'm a Christian conservative and have campaigned for conservative candidates since I was eight years old. I have worked with people who assuredly do not share my political and religious beliefs. But we work together and do our jobs, and serve the people in front of us.

Is it hard to not argue with people? ABSOLUTELY. 100%. I'm argumentative by nature. I have many times argued with people when I shouldn't. I often have to bite my tongue and just move on to another topic. And it can be hard. But it's worth it.

I look around America today, and I see all this negativity and volatility and violence. Sometimes people fight over unimportant things, like whether The Last Jedi was any good. Sometimes people fight over things that matter, like religious freedoms. But what good does it do when we just yell at each other? It only makes people more mad, more defensive, and more set on their position. It creates more violence. Perpetuates cancel culture. And I'm tired of it.

We live in what is supposed to be a free nation. The First Amendment is supposed to protect freedom of speech. And we should be willing to let other people have their own opinions and beliefs. We should be able to discuss our differences calmly and rationally, being willing to see others' viewpoints. Maybe we'll convince each other to change our views, maybe not. But if we're willing to sit down in a non-hostile environment, then just maybe, even if no one changes their mind, we can agree to disagree and unite on the things we do agree on. Even if the only thing we can agree on is that chocolate is awesome. 

Above all, "Be ye kind, one to another." All of this fighting is the opposite of kindness. You don't win people over by burning down their business, or by firing them from a job they do well because they disagree with the mainstream narrative. You win people over with love and kindness.

And if that's controversial, then so be it.

"When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind."

Monday, February 8, 2021

We're Supposed To Sing About Piratey Things

 

Well, I've never licked a spark plug or sniffed a stinkbug, or painted daisies on a big red rubber ball, and I've also never been to Boston in the fall. More importantly, I never hoist the mainstay and I never swab the poop deck and I never veer to starboard 'cause I never sail at all. Which is a bit of a problem when you're writing a pirate book.

Which is as much to say, I got to chapter three of my pirate book and realized just how rusty I am on ships and sailing terms and general piratey things. So I took about a week or so off from writing to read as many ship and pirate books as I could find in my library system's juvenile nonfiction section. Those usually have more pictures (not that I found a great cross section of a sloop, but I have a little more direction) and tend to be more concise. I'm not writing a historical fiction, so I was mostly looking for inspiration and little things to jog my memory.


Because what's great about fantasy is that I can pick and choose what I want from real history, and make up the rest. I'm not stuck to reality, I can do whatever I want.


I did learn some interesting things in my research though. So I thought I'd share.

  • Cutlasses could chop through bone and muscle. Also, they were shorter than rapiers which made them less likely to get caught in the rigging during a fight.
  • Pirates were not generally well-trained fighters, they’d just hack away at their victims.
  • They would create stink bombs of clay jars filled with burning sulfur and rotten fish guts to make victims sick in an attack.
  • Pirates would often remove raised decks so the main deck was all one level, which made for a better fighting platform.
  • Pirates typically only attacked when they had a good chance of winning.
  • Pirates voted for captain and were run like democracies...and if the crew didn't like what the captain was doing, they'd throw him overboard or maroon him on an island.
  • Walking the plank wasn't really a thing, but they did throw people overboard, whip them with the cat o' nine tails, and keelhaul them.
  • Pirates rarely buried treasure. Usually they spent it as soon as they got it.
  • Gambling on board ship was typically banned to reduce fighting among the crew. That didn't stop them from gambling when they went ashore, though.
  • They actually stole a lot of everyday goods. They could be sold for money, and they often needed supplies and medicines themselves.
  • Also, Edward England's crew marooned him for treating a prisoner too well.
  • And Pirates of the Caribbean is not an accurate representation of piracy. Who knew, right? 😂


My pirate book is proooooobably going to be more along the lines of PotC than realistic piracy, but that's fine because it's fantasy. And who doesn't like PotC? I even just watched 4 and 5, even though they're really not that good. Because let's face it, we all know "they get more watered down after each one" but if they actually go through with making a sixth one, we'll all still watch it. Because

Monday, January 25, 2021

Why You Shouldn't Overpower Your Characters

Superpowered characters are great, aren't they? They can do all these amazing things and save the world and they're just plain cool! You can't go wrong.

Or can you?


There are people who will disagree, I've seen them on Pinterest, but I think most people would agree that you shouldn't overpower your characters. It makes them unrelatable, undefeatable, lack character growth, and, okay, it does often make for some cool visuals. I'll give you that.

Let's look at a couple of these things that make overpowered characters...not the best with a few examples from popular culture.



They're the same character, right? Well, not really. Both of them may be Chinese girls who don't really fit in, who go to war in their father's place and end up saving China, but that's about where the comparison stops. Animated Mulan is an outspoken tomboy who loves her family and, through hard work, perseverance, and ingenuity becomes the person she needs to be in order to save China. Live-action Mulan basically just has superpowers. All she has to do in order to be what she needs to be to save China is decide to use her powers. And that doesn't really take much convincing either.

We see a lot of character growth in the animated Mulan. She's really kind of a mess when she arrives at the army encampment. She has no idea how to blend in, she's no good at any of the training exercises, and she's about ready to get sent home. Now, a lot of her growth in her abilities does happen in a training montage during a song, which isn't necessarily the best way to do it, but it's much better than not doing it at all. And it's a triumphant moment when she comes up with her way to use the weights to get to the top of the pole.

Live-action Mulan has superpowers as a kid that she's told to hide. And she does, until she gets tired of not doing well in training, and then she just decides to use her powers after all. That's pretty much it. And then because she has these superpowers that she decided she wanted to use after all, she was able to take down the Huns...oh wait, they weren't Huns in this movie...and have a showdown that's not really earned. Animated Mulan earned her victory. Live-action Mulan just did it with her Jedi powers.

Rey vs. Ahsoka


Disclaimer: I'm a huge fan of Ahsoka Tano. But you know, I actually did used to like Rey, before I realized she was one of those characters who can do literally anything the plot requires with no need to learn how to do it. And that's just not relatable.

People do have innate talents. I'm not going to argue with that. But you still have to learn how to use them. Even someone with innate musical talent still has to learn and practice in order to become a great musician. It may come easier to some people than others, and some will attain higher levels than are possible for others, but that doesn't mean it just happens with no effort.

And that's what I mean by being relatable. Rey has a lot of power and a lot of potential in the Force. I don't have any issue with that. But when I see her using a Jedi mind trick when she's only just heard of the Force and basically lifting an avalanche of rocks when her only "training" consisted of Luke telling her why the Jedi needed to be gone, well, it just doesn't work for me. Also, she doesn't actually fail. Even in TLJ, which was pretty much all about learning from failure, she doesn't fail. And that's an impossibly high standard. No one can actually relate to that. (If they'd played up her abandonment trauma, it would have been different, but they were too busy trying to move the characters through the plot points.)

Ahsoka, on the other hand, actually fails a lot. And learns from those failures and succeeds next time. She is powerful, but she has to learn how to use those powers. She's not perfect. For instance, she completely loses her Force grip on Steela Gerrera when she gets shot in the shoulder and drops Steela over the cliff. (Not that I was that sad...Steela was trying to make a move on Lux Bonteri and I ship Luxsoka. But anyway.) 

Ahsoka's a much more relatable character. While none of us can (obviously) relate to her Force powers and I certainly hope none of us can relate to being a child soldier or having a "friend" frame us for murder, I'm sure there are a lot of us who can relate to being a cocky kid who thinks she knows everything, talking back to authority figures, and making stupid (and sometimes very costly) mistakes because we think we know what we're doing and we really, really don't. And when we see Ahsoka overcoming her flaws, learning from her mistakes, and growing into a truly remarkable young woman, we know that we have the ability to grow into greatness as well. But Rey, well, she can already do everything she needs to do.



This is probably an unfair comparison because technically Black Widow has no superpowers, but TBH, I was having a really hard time finding a good contrast for Captain Marvel. But seeing as how I want to talk about invulnerability/undefeatability and its effect on the stakes of a movie and Nat literally did die, I'm going to make it work. (And I'm still waiting on that Black Widow movie, Marvel...)

We all want the hero to survive. We want them to win. But...we also want there to be stakes. We want to feel like that victory was earned. Like there is a possibility that they might die instead (even if we know they won't because they're in the next movie). Because without some stakes, why should we really care?

When Captain Marvel taps into her full power, she becomes basically indestructible and all powerful. To quote "Pitch Meeting," the powers she has is "all of them." She defeats a whole bunch of aliens singlehandedly with basically no effort and comes out of it pretty much without a scratch. The whole fight scene looks pretty cool, I'll give you that. But there's no wondering if she'll fail, or if she'll win but have to spend a month in a bacta tank afterwards. Sorry, mixing together my fandoms. But you get my point. Yes, we know her adversaries could destroy everything, but we also know they won't because literally no one stands a chance against fully powered Captain Marvel.

Nat doesn't have any powers and they still haven't actually come out with her solo movie which we were supposed to get nearly a year ago, so I'll do my best. But the fact is, she's super awesome, being a highly trained assassin, but she's not invulnerable. Evidenced by the fact that she did die to get the soul stone. The chances of Nat losing a fight are small. But you know, she can't blast someone with unlimited power if a villain gets the upper hand. And she can fall off a cliff and die.

When the protagonist is completely unmatched by anyone else in the story, there aren't really any stakes, and that just makes it less interesting. But when your character could die, when they could fail, that raises the stakes and makes it a whole lot more interesting.


Overpowered characters might happen a lot in fiction (and according to Google is apparently super common in anime), but there are better ways to do it. Ways that create characters that are more relatable and more inspiring with stories that have more interesting stakes.

Have a Studio C about the creation of Superman, yet another overpowered character. 😆

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Hunger Cover Reveal

The cover for Hunger is here! Hunger is the sequel to Jill Williamson's Thirst, and both together are prequels to The Safe Lands trilogy. Jill Williamson's books are always really awesome, and I can't WAIT for Hunger to come out! And today, I get to share the cover with you. But first, a little bit about the book.

****

In the wake of a pandemic, Eli and his friends find a thriving community that offers free housing, food, and thankfully, safe drinking water. But something is amiss. The residents spend most their time partying and attending concerts. No one seems concerned that the virus is still out there. When Eli tries to leave, he discovers a fence has been built to keep him, and everyone else, inside. 

Hannah is tired of running. When she is conscripted to work in the hospital, she hopes she’s finally found a place to belong, but Admin’s disregard for a doctor’s pledge to “First do no harm” is unsettling. 

As Hannah starts to wonder if she will ever be safe again, Eli clings to his hope for freedom. In a world filled with lies, can they learn to trust each other? Or will their hunger for safety trap them in a world that’s not so safe after all? 

**** 

The ebook for HUNGER is available for pre-order on Amazon. The book releases on April 8, 2021 in Hardcover, paperback, and ebook. For more information, to pre-order, or to add the book to your Goodreads page, visit www.JillWilliamson.com/thirst


Doesn't it look cool? April 8th will be here before we know it!



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! 😉