Flare: Book 2 of the Firebrand Chronicles Progress Update

I just made progress on Flare: Book 2 of the Firebrand Chronicles! So far I’m 63% complete on the Writing phase. 10 Weeks remain until the deadline.
[mybookprogress progress=”0.62572″ phase_name=”Writing” deadline=”1494547200″ book=”1″ book_title=”Flare: Book 2 of the Firebrand Chronicles” bar_color=”be00cc” cover_image=”118″]

The Love Project

I’m a big fan of Valentine’s Day, although I try to show my loved ones I love them all year round. It was harder when I was younger. So much emphasis placed on couples and dating and well, I was single. Even after I started dating, I still rebelled against the idea. My first year of college I celebrated Valentine’s Day by wearing all black… What can I say? It was an experiment. Now I’m older (and hopefully wiser), and I’ve learned Valentine’s Day is so much more than a day to celebrate that special someone.

I came across the Love Project a few weeks ago before February first. The idea appealed to me, especially after coming across a line in a parenting book. It said to tell your teen often, “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less.” (Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston, Harvest House Publishers) After making that comment to them, we talked a bit more, than I decided to try the month-long project.

The directions are simple. Cut up enough cards so there’s one card for every day of the month (or you can use sticky notes). Every day write one unique thing you love about that person on a card. It can be a physical attribute or something special inside you love about them. Then stick it in a place where they’ll be sure to see it.

I did this with my two girls. I made a list of all the things I loved about them. Some were the same (their beautiful smile) while others were very different (one is calm and cautious while the other is full of energy). When I started placing them on the door of their room, I explained what I’d be doing.

“Why?” my older one asked with a suspicious squint.

I shrugged. “Just because. It’s February, the love month, right?”

In reality, I just wanted to let them know all the ways I thought they were amazing. My youngest has allowed all the notes to accumulate, like a Door of Affirmation, while the older takes some of them off and squirrels them away in her room. But however they deal with these love notes, I never want them to feel we don’t notice and appreciate their differences.

This idea is versatile. It’d work for any month or any special person. You don’t need to wait for Valentine’s Day. Who wants to wait for a special holiday to tell someone how much they’re loved? Or maybe do a month of I love you’s–tell a different person each day how you feel about them.

It’ll be interesting to see the results from this, if any. I’ve already had a few interesting conversations with my oldest daughter.

If you try it or a version of it, let me know. I’d love to hear how your Love Project progresses!

Just Another Blizzard

Today is a snow day. Snow started falling yesterday afternoon and by 5:30 this morning, the school called to declare a two-hour delay. Two hours later, they called again to cancel. So I slept in. This is my typical response to a snow day, because most days I’m up by 6:00. I like sleep and will find excuses to indulge. The snow’s been lightly falling all day, a soft blanket of beautiful white, decorating bare branches and pines with a fleecy white veil. My last check revealed a total of six inches—and it’s still coming.

Yesterday when the snow started, I was at a doctor’s appointment about twenty-five miles from home. After lunch with my husband, I drove home, noting the blinking highway signs reading, “Caution: White-out conditions.” In the distance, the valley looked fuzzy—a sure sign of snow, rain or other precipitation. Still, I continued on. After all, how bad could it be? Not more than a mile down the road, I encountered the white-out. It was like someone drew a line, and that was where the mayhem started. Blowing snow, decreasing visibility, gusting winds. Fun, fun. In our area, we’ve had multi-car pile-ups on the interstate in similar conditions. At the next exit, I drove to the old mountain road which everyone used before the interstate went in. It’s longer, but the trees block the wind and reduce the blowing snow that make I-80 so dangerous. Instead of a white-out, I faced untreated roads and slush-filled tracks. I followed the twists and turns up the mountain while my traction control engaged and disengaged. I’m blessed I didn’t get stuck. After a quick stop at Dollar General for the requisite milk and water (we already had enough bread), I hurried home.

If I had to do it over again, I’d make the same choice. But it made me remember why I hate driving in snow.

I’ve lived in Pennsylvania my whole life and in this small town for most of it. I’m not sure how I’d handle living in another part of the country where hurricanes or tornadoes or earthquakes are the norm. Blizzards and heavy snowfall seem easier to handle. Our preparation checklist looks like this:

  1. Buy enough gas for a generator, if you own one.
  2. Make sure your vehicles have full tanks.
  3. Check your pantry for a stash of canned goods.
  4. Cancel any appointments that may have been scheduled.
  5. Buy milk, bread, and water and “hunker down.”

We’re hunkered down now. I’ll let you know when we get out

House Rules

As the parents of two munchkins, my husband and I have had to lay down some rules. For example: no electronics in the bedroom, always tell the truth, and homework before fun. When the kids were smaller, we also had “Try one bite of everything on your plate.” (That one still sometimes gets pulled out when I feel adventurous and try a new recipe.) Many of these rules are probably very familiar to parents across the world. But we’ve had to institute a few unusual ones, too. One, a holdover from my childhood, is no singing at the table. I’m still not sure why, but I think the logic behind it is, if you’re singing, you’re not eating. And as a kid, I was a slow eater. Very slow.

Most weeknights, our family comes together to have dinner and share about our day. We’re all encouraged to share one good thing, one bad thing, and one interesting thing. Several years ago, we noticed an unusual trend. During dinner, Munchkin One would quote a memorable movie line that was appropriate to the situation. Munchkin Two would give the expected next line. Before you could take another bite of your mashed potatoes, they’d repeated half of the movie’s script, complete with sound effects. Now, there’s a small part of me that felt a motherly pride with their steel-trap memory, something I lost about ten years ago. But after experiencing the movie line phenomena a few times, we lost something precious. My husband and I would walk away from supper without any clue to how their day went.

At their age, I would come home from school, sit on the yellow stool just inside the kitchen doorway and spill my guts while my mom made supper. I had a few rough years dealing with school bullies, and I needed that verbal dialogue as a kind of decompression. If I was still bothered by a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, I’d practice my piano lesson and lose myself in the music. But my kids don’t follow in my footsteps. Each of them comes home, does their homework, and then plays video games. So that connection at the dinner table is crucial.

In response, we created, “No movie lines, TV lines, or music lyrics at the table.” Sometimes my husband or I will slip with “Everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?” (from Star Wars IV) or “I don’t know what they taught you in France, but rude and interesting are not the same things.” (from French Kiss.) But my kids store pages and pages of dialogue from all the Pixar movies, Disney movies, and most recently, anime shows. (You know you’ve experienced a rare thing when your English-speaking kids sing a whole song in Japanese.)

So with the no movie line rule, we eliminated the movie play-by-plays, and they shared what happened at school. But sometimes with Munchkin One (now a teen), we hear, “Cause we were like, ‘whooooa,’ and I was like, ‘whooooa.’ and you were like, ‘whooooaaa…’”

As you can see, it’s a work in progress.

 

A Silent Resolution

Our Christmas tree is still up, the tiny lights filling the living room with a soft glow. Unwrapped packages lay scattered under the tree, and a garbage bag of crumpled wrapping paper slouches in a corner, waiting for trash day.

Amid this scene of a successful Christmas holiday, I’m sad. Post-Christmas blues usually find me, as well as 25 percent of other Americans. I only need to wait it out and focus on some of the plans our family has made before everyone gets back to “the daily grind.” The feeling will blow over sometime in January.

Maybe the sadness materialized because I’ve broken with tradition and made a resolution for 2017. That’s rare. I avoid resolutions because I don’t like feeling like a failure. Typically, a fantastic idea hits in late December, and I decide to lose weight or eat less chocolate (how ridiculous is that?!) Then sometime in the spring, I realize the resolution I came up with several months ago is unattainable, and I revert to my old habits.

But this year, I’ve found a weakness, a behavior I want to fix. I interrupt others, speaking over them as I cringe inside with embarrassment. I could blame it on self-centeredness, or social awkwardness, or narcissism (which, here we go again, makes me feel like a failure, because I don’t like to think I have those problems). But I’ve always talked fast and thought fast, and my amazing family loves me anyway. With people who don’t know me well, I struggle to keep my mouth shut when a thought pops into my head. I’m afraid I’ll forget it. But with 40+ years of living this way, I’m determined to end the rudeness. I’ve had a couple victories in the last week, and I’m looking for many more in 2017.

This thinking about resolutions made me wonder. Do you make them? What were they? If any of them were successful, how did you attain that success? Leave a comment—I’d love to hear about it!

Supporting Artists

Imagine: you’re at home, you’ve finished the laundry teetering in the baskets, swept the floor, and your children (if you have them) are playing, happy, and quiet. (If they’re quiet, go check them. Now. You’ll thank me later.)

Congratulations! You’ve found a chunk of time to write. You sit down, power up your laptop, and… nothing. The house is too quiet, or too loud, or the incessant dripping from the kitchen faucet makes it difficult to think. You need music. Through a non-scientific experiment of my own, I’ve built a list of composers and artists that keep me writing.

I have a few requirements for music to make my list. First of all, it can’t have words. If it does, I’ll end up humming it all day and my writing will suck. (Or suck more than it already does.) Even if it’s an instrumental version of Adele’s Hello, it’ll distract me. Secondly, it has to fit the genre or scene. If I’m writing a love scene, I don’t want to listen to The Imperial March.

Pull up some of these on Pandora and see if they work for you on your next WIP.

  1. Anything by John Williams (Indiana Jones series, Jurassic Park, Star Wars series, and many others) Something about this man’s music makes me type faster, and the scenes unspool in my head in an epic rush. I’ll admit, though, I haven’t tried writing to Jaws. Just sayin’.
  2. Some of Hans Zimmer’s scores. I like all of the Pirates of the Carribean series and a few tracks on the Inception soundtrack are good. (I’m planning on using Dream is Collapsing for my future WIP’s dark moment.)
  3. Anything instrumental by Lindsey Stirling. The girl with her violin is gold.
  4. Vivaldi is good for just about any genre. His concertos known as The Four Seasons are my favorite.
  5. Warcraft II (the video game) I wrote the battle scene for Spark while listening to it. Again, something about those selections had me writing faster. Some writers claim any video game music will work because it’s designed to allow the gamer to focus on another task other than the music itself.
  6. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves I found this on Pandora one day, and I’m now convinced my current WIP would be an awesome movie. The tracks will give you “delusions of grandeur,” I promise, which is not a bad thing. You have characters who are doing their own thing, a sagging story arc, fantastic plot points that now seem stupid… Any bolstering, real or otherwise, is sometimes needed.

We’re an eclectic household. My two daughters listen to pop music when they write and do homework—I don’t know how they do it. My husband listens to electronica while working. I listen to primarily instrumental music on Pandora. This article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/24/music-creative_n_5511501.html from Huffington Post also has some interesting facts about music and creativity. Do you have favorites that inspire you? Comment below and share what music you’ve been listening to.

 

Three Firsts at Realm Makers

Over a month ago, I traveled to Villanova, Pennsylvania, to attend the Realm Makers Conference, a writing conference for Christian speculative fiction writers. It’s the place rm-signsto be if you’re writing Christian fantasy, science-fiction, supernatural, steam punk or any other “weird” genre fiction that doesn’t fit nicely into other categories. To say it was a weekend of firsts for me is an understatement of epic proportions.

But first a little background story: many moons ago in a galaxy far, far away (AKA before I had children), I attended a Christian writers conference. I wrote romance at the time and had a manuscript to pitch to a publisher. (For my non-writing friends, a pitch is a chance to tell an editor, publisher, agent, or person of influence, about your story in the hopes that it catches their interest and doesn’t sit moldering in your filing cabinet). As my first manuscript, it wasn’t ready for publication (and never will be, although I learned a lot while writing it). During my appointment, the publisher was snide, condescending, and less than kind. I came home ready to hang my word processor up for good. Fast forward twenty years later, that incident still sticks with me, like bad Chinese take-out. So much so, that the thought of pitching anything more than laundry in a basket filled me with dread. Still, I had the opportunity at Villanova, and I hoped things had changed in the years while I was off building a family.

My first “first” was the chance to attempt a pitch and leave with a positive experience. Did I want a publishing contract? Yes. But my most pressing need was to leave with the knowledge that I should keep pursuing my dream, I wasn’t a hack, and editors/agents/publishers were nice people who wanted to help writers who were serious about their craft. Mission accomplished. At the end of the weekend, I completed two successful pitches, and all the publishers I talked with were genuinely nice people.

rm-roomies

My second “first” was the opportunity to participate in a cosplay event. For the awards banquet the second night, we were instructed to dress up in our favorite fandom. Being the fantasy writer that I am, I pulled out my trusty sewing machine. After watching waaaaay too many You tube videos, I pulled together a medieval mercenary outfit (or at least my interpretation of one), complete with a sword and sheath, and a matching corset and bracers set. It was loads of fun, and I came away impressed with everyone else’s costumes. Doctor Who? He was there. Rapunzel with her frying pan? Also there. At our table, a Vulcan sat next to an elegant vampire (who did NOT sparkle. I’m thinking Stephanie Meyer might have made that up). A couple Reys’ from The Force Awakens, as well as elves, fairies, ladies-in-waiting, and superheroes were scattered throughout the room.

My third “first” was the chance to be in a Nerf war. People, unless you’ve done this before, you’ve no idea how much fun you’re missing! I picked up an inexpensive Nerf gun with LOTS of ammunition before the conference, and came away with the desire to do this a lot more (so much so, that I bought three extra Nerf guns—one for each member of my family!) The conferees split into two teams, named Fury and Doom, and took over two floors of the one dorm. I had so much fun shooting foam bullets at the dude hanging out in the stairwell.

At the conference, I made friends and met face-to-face virtual friends I knew only from the internet. Despite my social anxiety and awkwardness, I came home with a new “tribe,” a group of people who understood what I wrote, and why I wrote it. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt comfortable with strangers that quickly. There were no awkward conversations that went like this:
Friendly Individual turns to me with a smile. “What do you write?”
“Speculative fiction. It’s a portal fantasy, you know, like Narnia.”
“Oh.” The individual’s smile freezes as they nod uncertainly.
Conversation over.

The keynote speaker was Thom Locke (pen name for T. Davis Bunn). An eloquent speaker, he shared encouraging tips to get our butts in the chair and write. Despite authors’ love for writing, it can sometimes be intimidating and very difficult to carve out time to do this. I also attended classes on writing led by Kathy Tyers (Firebird Trilogy, and several Star Wars books) and bestselling author Tosca Lee (Iscariot, The Progeny, and others).

It’s over for this year. You missed it, your bad. But don’t despair because it’s an annual thing. Next year is the fifth anniversary, and it’ll be held in Reno. Bestselling author Ted Dekker will be the keynote speaker. Make the effort to attend this conference and come prepared for learning and fun. You won’t be disappointed.

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman: Review

nightbird-review

I don’t often do book reviews, usually because I’m so far behind the trends. By the time I post a review, I’m guessing everyone else is thinking, “Yeah, read that one three years ago. What’s she been doing, living under a rock?” I leave the book reviews for the quicker readers. But this is an exception. Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman (author of Practical Magic, among many others) was released last year.

Nightbird is juvenile fiction, appropriate for ages 10 and up. It covers the story of the Fowler family, in particular Teresa Fowler (aka Twig) who attends sixth grade in Sidwell, Massachusetts. Twig loves living in Sidwell, next to the apple orchards her family has owned for forever. But dark secrets plague Twig and Sidwell, too. The witch that used to live in Sidwell many years ago cursed Twig’s family. And the descendants of that witch just moved in next door. Her mother forbids her to spend any time with them, but Twig is intrigued by this friendly family. Before she knows it, their daughter Julia becomes her first best friend.

The townspeople have always believed a monster haunts the town, but when things start to go missing, people become concerned. The mutterings about hunting and killing the monster develop into concrete plans. Twig’s terrified when she hears of the plans, because she knows something the townspeople don’t. The monster may be closer than they think.

As Twig, and her new best friend Julia, attempt to understand and fix the curse, they get some help from friendly townspeople and long lost papers. As usual in a Hoffman novel, magic is found everywhere, from the special Pink apples grown in the Fowler’s orchard to the exotic fragrant teas offered by the town librarian.

Although there was an opportunity for the author to explore the topic of bullying, she instead focused on how the unveiling of this secret changed Twig and her family. (Best of all, nobody died. That’s important to me. If a character dies, there better be a darn good reason for it.)

So if we’re giving stars, I’d give Nightbird 4.5 out of 5. If you love clean speculative fiction with family secrets and magic, I’d encourage you to pick it up.

Bowling A Strike

bowling-ball
Last weekend, our family of four went bowling. Our kids had never been (yes, they’re sheltered). It had been a long time since I had gone, too, like twenty years long. Although I expected to be rusty, I’d only need a few warm-up throws.

Things didn’t start out well. I couldn’t find the right ball. My two kids and my hubby had each picked a ball and were waiting for me, but I was still in the back . . . looking. This wasn’t a color problem. This was a no-upper-body-strength problem. Many of the balls were too heavy for this weakling. All of the light balls had very tiny finger holes, as if they expected a house-elf to drop by to bowl a few games. My first frame was played with an eleven pounder—gutter balls galore. After searching some more, I found an eight pound ball. That seemed better, better as in my–arm-can-support-this-ball-without-it-killing-me-tomorrow.

After a second scoreless frame, I was worried, but tried desperately to hide it. I’m a very competitive person. If I’m not doing well when we’re playing (during any activity, board game, sporting event, Wii game), then I’m not having fun. This sets a lousy example for my kids. This time, I was determined to have fun even if I lost, darn it. I was being a Good Example and building character. (Nobody told me I’d still be building character as an adult; I don’t like it any better now than I did when I was young.)

By the fourth frame, everyone had scored except me. I kept a smile firmly planted on my face, even while throwing gutter ball after gutter ball. The kids offered hugs. My husband offered advice. His tips worked in the second throw of the fourth frame. I finally scored, by knocking over one pin. Everyone cheered, like I had bowled a strike.
So, I had all the kinks worked out, right? Um, no, not even a little. I didn’t score again until the eighth frame and finished the game with a stellar score of 53. (And in case you were wondering, both my ten-year-old and sixteen-year-old newbie kids beat me).

While we were playing, I mentally reviewed what I needed to do and what a good approach looked like, but I couldn’t make my body do it. The hand-eye coordination was missing (as were many other things). So, I simplified. I gave up on an approach and concentrated on throwing the ball in a straight line. My kids were having fun, so I tried not to let losing bother me. It wasn’t too hard to do. Both of them picked up the technique pretty well. And by the time the game was halfway through, I settled into a lovely little bubble of defeated helplessness.

While reflecting on the experience, I realized this was a lot like Life. We know what we want it to look like. Most of us make grand plans for it, especially when we’re young and starting out. Some of us even plan for contingencies with a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C . . . But then things go wrong. Whether we planned well or not, we’re left with unexpected difficulties. Sickness, divorce, debt, and other troubles—gutter balls, if you will. We scramble to make the outside look good. We smile and say we’re fine while things fall apart. Defeated helplessness and worry sets in. Maybe we should simplify. Start praying. Enjoy the things that are going well. Admit the troubles, rather than hide them. Listen to the advice from the people who love you. Take the offered hugs. Pray some more. Then pray with others. It’s surprising the number of people willing to help, if we only become transparent.

This transparency is hard. It makes you feel vulnerable, especially if you’ve spent a long time trying to make things look good. But do you really want to spend your energy trying to hide the gutter balls? Or do you want to work with others and let others love you, so you can finally bowl a strike?

No Easy Answers

questions
Some people are never satisfied with the status quo—especially when it comes to someone else’s life. They’re quite content where they are, thank-you-very-much. But you, you should be out there changing the world! Or at least your own corner of it.

I’d been dating the same man for two years (my husband now), when the difficult questions began. People would discover we’d been dating a while, would nod and smile, and then ask, “So, when are ya gonna get engaged?” The first time this happened, I blushed furiously, laughed, and hoped my boyfriend hadn’t heard. My choices of retaliation were limited. I couldn’t publicly strangle this person and claim insanity later. There was an expiration date on dating? Nobody had shared this privileged information with me. I hadn’t read the manual.

After hearing that question for four years, my boyfriend buckled under the pressure. We got engaged. When “they” heard of this new development, the question became, “So, when are ya gonna get married?” For the next ten months, I heard this question over and over while I ate, breathed, slept, and dreamed the planning of my wedding. I thought “they” would be happy when the magical day arrived.

I was wrong. Before long a new question started: “So, when are ya gonna have a baby?” When I expressed no interest in having children, it was as though I’d claimed to be Elvis reincarnated— raised eyebrows, overly bright smiles, and quiet whispers reserved for the mentally unbalanced. “They” had never heard such a thing. Had I buried my maternal instincts under a rock? Maybe I was deficient and didn’t have any.

That was only the beginning. “They” devised tests (aka suggestions) for me, hoping I’d declare my mission in life was to bear dozens of children. I was told, “You should see Jane’s new baby,” or “Why don’t you hold Cheryl’s new baby so you can practice?” or “Go stand next to Tammy and Jennifer—they’re both pregnant.” As if something like that was contagious. (Names have been changed to protect the pregnant.)

It was five years before a maternal instinct hit me. They were necessary years, because now I was ready to have children, rather than feeling like I had to. In five and a half years, I gave birth to two beautiful and gifted girls (no bias here), and closed up shop. Still, I wondered how many other questions “they” had up their sleeve. Would “they” ever be content, or would it be a constant stream of questions? I could only imagine it: “When are your kids gonna get married?” “When are you gonna have grandchildren?” “When are you gonna retire?” What could be the last question? How about “When are you gonna die?”

To my relief, I haven’t heard any of the former imagined questions. Because God’s calling the shots, I don’t have any answers for these kinds of life-changing questions. After forty-five years, I’ve learned I’m not in control and I’m okay with that. His plans are bigger, better, and more phenomenal than anything I’d dream up. So when we talk, I don’t tell Him how to fix my problems. He’s got me covered.