Saturday, January 13, 2018

Tech to Save a Writer's Sanity

Ah, technology. For some writers, it’s a blessing; for others, a bane, and for most of us, it’s both. Nonetheless, almost every writer uses it at some point, whether they’re looking for epic motivational music on YouTube, collecting character inspiration on Pinterest, actually writing on Microsoft Word, or searching the internet for answers to one of those weird questions we all end up asking eventually. As a primarily pencil-and-paper writer, I’m a little less reliant on technology than some of my friends, but I still have a host of programs, sites, and apps that I use pretty regularly for writing-related purposes. And because I figure some of these might be helpful for others, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites. Some of these you probably already know about and might even use yourself, but others you might not be familiar with.

Tech to Save a Writer's Sanity

(Or at least make their lives a little easier and more productive)
  1. Evernote
    What I use it for: So. Storming. Much. Where do I even begin? A friend of mine told me about Evernote around the time I got my new phone, and I am so glad he did. I installed it on my laptop and my phone- which means any document I create on one shows up on the other- and I use it for everything, even stuff that isn’t writing related. I keep notes on it about my current WIPs, possible character names, and future story ideas, along with random other information like radio stations, wi-fi passwords, and my ever-growing list of books I want to look up. I’ve written blog posts, story chapters, and even short fiction on it. I’m currently in the process of transferring my entire worldbuilding notebook onto it. And, yes, I could do all that in an email draft, but Evernote allows a lot more organization and way nicer formatting. Also, apparently there are Evernote templates for writer-y things like character creation and worldbuilding, so that’s nice if I ever get around to checking them out. Which I probably won’t, but y’know.
    What I don’t use it for: Long projects. You can’t write a novel in Evernote- well, you probably could, but it’s not exactly ideal. However, you can write just about anything else in it, and you won’t have to email it to yourself (which I did a lot of before I installed the app).
  2. yWriter
    What I use it for: Editing Destinies and Decisions, mostly, and sometime in the future, I’ll probably rewrite my fairy tale retellings on it. However, people who do their first drafts on the computer could write in it as well. It’s basically a free sort-of-Scrivener with fewer features and a less snazzy interface. It’s great if you’re working on a story and you need to move chapters around, rewrite scenes multiple times, and so on. You can easily create a new version and still hold on to the old version, or you can reference an earlier scene without having to scroll back in the document. yWriter is also nice if you want to investigate a Scrivener-type program, but don’t want to do the Scrivener free trial for whatever reason.
    What I don’t use it for:
    Any project that I don’t want tied to my laptop- which is one of yWriter’s chief faults. I have yet to figure out how to easily export the files to a Microsoft Word document that I could work on elsewhere, other than copy-pasting scene by scene. I also don’t use it for editing straightforward projects like Blood in the Snow, only projects in which I know I have to totally move scenes around and add a lot of new material.
  3. Forest
    What I use it for:
    Ok, so this one isn’t a writing app, but I think it’s super helpful for writers because it decreases your potential distractions. Basically, you set the amount of time that you want to focus and the app plants a virtual “tree.” If you navigate away from the app during that time, your “tree” dies (and you feel like a slightly horrible person). You can set up Forest to allow access to certain other apps- music, name generators, Google Translate, so on- but it’ll keep you off stuff like Pinterest, Hangouts, or whatever else your distraction of choice might be. It also functions pretty well as a timer, for those who like to set “Write for X Hours per Week”-type goals. (I also just discovered that there’s a Firefox extension version in addition to the app, which I’m 100% going to get- apparently it keeps you off particular websites as long as it’s running, and yeah, I can definitely use that.) 
    What I don’t use it for:
    For one thing, I obviously don’t use it when I’m writing on my phone. I also try not to use it if I think I might have to use blocked apps for actual writing-related purposes; for example, if I know I’ll be introducing a new character and I want to access my reference pictures on Pinterest, or if I think I’m going to end up Googling a bunch of stuff. Other than that, it’s pretty fabulous.
  4. Name Generators: Behind the Name, Fantasy Name Generators, FaNG (app), Name Generator (app)
    What I use each for:
    Behind the Name is always my first choice for main character names. It’s got a wide range of names (with history and meaning!) from languages and cultures all over the world. If you know what you’re looking for, you can browse name lists, but if you’re not really sure, you can use their random renamer to generate a bunch of options. Usually, I pick a few different language groups I’m thinking about and set it to give me a first name, three middle names, and a last name, generate ten or so of those, and combine as necessary. I also sometimes use the Fantasy Name Generators site, which actually has both real and fantasy names. It doesn’t give you meanings, but it’ll generate ten names at a click. Plus, you can use it for place names, descriptions, riddles, and a ton of other stuff. Finally, on the app side, we have FaNG, which is designed for roleplaying games and provides names for a few major RPG types, plus some real-world names from a couple cultures, and the Name Generator, which focuses entirely on real-world names from a wider set of languages. 
    What I don’t use each for:
    As I already said, Behind the Name and the Fantasy Name Generators site are generally my first two choices for name creation. Usually, I’ll use Behind the Name more for planning major characters and the Fantasy Name Generators for minor characters, non-characters, and on-the fly names. However, both of them require internet to work, so when I’m on the go, I’ll use whichever app has names that fit my setting.
  5. Yearly Word Tracker Spreadsheets
    What I use them for: Er, well, tracking word count? But the tracker is also set up so you can keep track of time spent writing, daily and monthly averages, monthly and yearly totals, and monthly and yearly goals. Plus there’s pretty art, which I find pretty motivational. There’s also a version specifically for NaNoWriMo, but you don’t need it; I’m generally fine with just the normal November page in the year-long tracker. But yeah. I find that keeping a record of how much and how long I write helps me be a bit more regular with my writing, so that’s helpful.
What are some resources- whether software, apps, websites, or another form of tech- that you find particularly helpful for writing? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)  

P.S. What do you think of my new header? I'd love to hear your input- what you like about it, what you don't like, what you think could be better. Thanks in advance!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Old Books Yet Unread

Allo, everyone! As I mentioned earlier this week, one of my goals for the year is to read more old books- at least one for every three new books I read. Some of these I'll be revisiting; for instance, it's been far too long since I reread The Lord of the Rings all the way through, and I rather want to revisit some of the classic adventure books I used to enjoy. However, I also have a reasonably long list of older books that I keep intending to read but never get around to, and I'd like to try to clear it out a bit this year. More or less all of these can fit into one of four categories: 1) Lewis and Tolkien, 2) books that influenced Lewis and Tolkien, 3) miscellaneous classics I got away with not reading, and 4) random books that somehow appeared on my TBR, probably on a friend's recommendation. Hopefully I'll finish the year by reading a fair sampling of each category. And today, I thought I'd share some of the highlights of what I intend to read, in no particular order.

Old Books Unread (Until Now!)

  1. The Pilgrim's Regress and 'Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. Or, more accurately, everything Lewis ever wrote, with the possible exception of the Oxford History of English Literature (referred to by Lewis as his "O HEL project," for good reason!). These two are my top priority, though, the first because it relates somewhat to some of my classes last year and the second because people keep telling me how amazing it is. The fact that those two are novels and the rest of Lewis's work tends to be either scholarship or theology (with a few exceptions) also helps.
  2. Something by G.K. Chesterton. I'm not actually sure what, since I'm really not at all familiar with Chesterton; all I know is that he's fits in the "influenced Lewis and Tolkien" (or at least Lewis) category, that he's apparently very good, and that he's often quoted in relation to fairy tales and dragons. So, I asked a friend for recommendations and now I've narrowed my choice down from "something" to six different books, and . . . yeah. I'll probably end up reading either some of the Father Brown mysteries or The Man Who Was Thursday, but I don't know for sure.
  3. Either The Iliad or Beowulf. Or, better yet, both. The Iliad is one of the few books that doesn't neatly fit into any of the categories I mentioned earlier; it's not so much that I got away with not reading it as that I didn't realize I wanted to read it until I read The Odyssey in Fall 2016 and fell a little bit in love. I suspect I'll still prefer The Odyssey to The Iliad, mostly because Odysseus, but y'know. Beowulf, on the other hand, I read a portion of in Brit Lit a few years ago and enjoyed, but I never got around to reading the full poem. If anyone has a translation they particularly like, please let me know; otherwise I'll probably go with Tolkien's version, because Tolkien.
  4. Shakespeare's Hamlet. NoIhaven'treadityetpleasedon'tkillme. People keep telling me to read Hamlet, I keep saying "Yes! I plan to soon!" with the very best intentions . . . and then I don't read it, making it a classic Category 3 "book I got away without reading." Shame on me- but I will fix that this year! There are a few other Shakespeare plays I want to read, like The Taming of the Shrew and The Merchant of Venice, and maybe a reread of MacBeth, but Hamlet is definitely top priority.
  5. The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris. I thought, when I noticed this on my TBR list, that it was part of Category 4 (random books from who-knows-where). However, while I still don't know how I found out about it, further investigation has revealed that Morris was one of the more influential pre-Tolkien fantasy writers and that both Tolkien and Lewis enjoyed his works- this one in particular. I also heard that apparently the language makes it a bit difficult to read, but, y'know, if I can manage Shakespeare I can probably manage this as well.
  6. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I enjoy Pride and Prejudice- who doesn't?- but after Sense and Sensibility dragged on for ages and I DNF'ed Emma, the rest of Austen's works became Category 3 "Classics I got away with not reading." But this year seems the perfect time to try to jump back in, especially after I basically reread P&P back in October, and Northanger Abbey seems a good place to start- mostly because a heroine determined to make her life into the stuff of her favorite stories sounds thoroughly relatable.
  7. A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller. This is most definitely a Category 4, as I can't even recall where I first heard of it and only rediscovered it quite recently. From the description, I'm not entirely sure what to make of it; it sounds like it'll either be delightfully subtle satire or dreadfully depressing and cynical. Obviously, I'm hoping for the former.
What classics do you keep meaning to read or reread? Any suggestions of old books that I should add to my list for the year? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)  

Monday, January 1, 2018

Ring the Old Year Out; Ring the New Year In!

Happy New Year, y'all! It's 2018 . . . and just in time, because y'know how after a new year begins, there's that transition period of trying to remember to date things as the new year and not the old one? My brain decided that we had to be different and so I keep accidentally dating things as 2018 instead of 2017. It's very annoying, especially since I thought 2017 was actually a good year. Among other things, it included:
  • Writing and editing a total of 129,321 words in three major projects and a handful of short stories, which included:
    • Fight Song (draft completed; editing and posting in progress)
    • Blood in the Snow (written, edited, and submitted to Rooglewood's 5 Poisoned Apples contest)
    • Destinies and Decisions (first edit/third draft in progress)
  • Participating in two Camp NaNoWriMos and NaNoWriMo, including my first November as a NaNo Rebel.
  • Assembling a professional portfolio and completing a substantial number of design projects, including two infographics (which I may share at some point, because I'm super happy with them).
  • Moving from New York back to Virginia (huzzah) and repainting my new room.
  • Watching the rest of Merlin and roughly one third of Fairy Tail.
  • Cosplaying as Captain Elizabeth Britworth, steampunk time traveler and airship captain.
  • Reading 93.5 books (which is a little lower than usual but at least they were mostly good books).
What, then, does 2018 hold? Obviously, I don't know for sure, seeing as I'm more Lightweaver than Truthwatcher, but as usual, I have several goals for the year in a few different categories. For the record, these aren't exactly hard and fast, I-must-do-this-or-die-trying goals. If 2019 rolls around and I haven't accomplished all of them, I'm not exactly going to be torn up about it. They're just things I want to aim for on the principle that even if I fail, I'll have gotten somewhere beneficial.

Writing Goals!
  • I am setting myself a writing challenge every month so that I write more regularly.
    • I have built myself a reputation for finishing things. For getting things done. For being someone who works steadily, if not always swiftly. It's accurate . . . but when you look at my writing, it's not as accurate as it once was. Not as accurate as I want it to be. There was a time I wrote every day, or nearly so. I finished one story and started another the same week. Not everything I wrote was good, but enough of it was, at least for my level of skill. But lately, I feel like I write and edit in fits and starts, bursts of words during NaNo events or when I feel particularly inspired, and nothing in between.
    • I cannot let this go on. I can't afford to. And I don't want to. I want to know what I could do if I wrote now like I did once. How much could I finish that's been in progress too long? How much could I begin or revisit that I've denied myself because I have so many projects unfinished? I have stories growing that I want to tell, some of which have been maturing for a long time, and I want to get myself to a place where I can write them and write them well. That means I need to start writing on a regular, daily, basis. And so: writing challenges.
    • That's not to say that every month will be a NaNoWriMo-level goal. I know that's not sustainable, not when I have classes and work and friends to attend to as well. Some months will just be a hundred words or a short poem per day. But as long as I keep writing or editing daily, or nearly so, even a small goal will be enough.
  • What do I intend to accomplish with all this writing and editing? Well, I have a few main projects:
    • Finish editing and posting Fight Song. This should probably be my top writing priority, seeing as I've left y'all hanging for several months now. (Sorry about that. Blood in the Snow kind of consumed my writing life.)
    • Write a short fiction piece a month. Ideally, this will be something that I can post here on the blog. It could be anywhere from a few-hundred-word sketch to a five-thousand-word short story, depending on the idea. But I'm becoming steadily more wordy, and I need to recapture the ability to write short. Plus, I really need something to balance all the editing I plan to do, and I hope this will help.
    • Finish rewriting Destinies and Decisions. Honestly, I need to sit down and decide exactly what plot changes to make and what to keep. Once I do that, I think this whole process will go a lot more smoothly, especially since I was at one point pretty excited about where I was going with the story. And after I'm done with the rewrite/edit, I can figure out where I'm going with the series from here.
    • Finish editing Between Two Worlds. Katelyn keeps poking me and reminding me how fun she is to write and hinting that she's ready for another adventure, and I can't do that until I complete this edit of her first story. Plus, this should be comparatively easy project, since I don't plan on any major changes to the plot.
    • Participate in all three NaNoWriMo events. I'll probably be editing things for at least two of them so that I can continue to work on the other goals I've already outlined, but NaNo is fun, and I missed it in 2016, and this past year has proven that I can do NaNo and college as long as I don't mind being a bit of a rebel. So, yeah. I'd like to write something new for at least one of the events, but established projects are higher priority.
    • I suspect all that will keep me busy for most of the year, but if I finish early . . . well, I'm not sure what I'll do. Maybe I'll start a new novel or novella; maybe I'll work on another editing project; maybe I'll actually start actively trying to get published. After all, Between Two Worlds is one of my two top picks for a novel debut. We'll have to see what happens.
  • My goal for the month of January is 15 hours of writing, editing or worldbuilding. That'll be about half an hour a day, which should be doable even allowing for homework, friends, and exercise, as long as I don't procrastinate. It'll also allow me to build up a bit of a buffer if I need it. Depending where I am about halfway through the month, I may adjust the goal, but we'll see what happens.
Reading Goals!
  • I'm setting my Goodreads reading challenge at 77 books, as opposed to my usual 99. This is for a few reasons. For one thing, I wasn't able to make 99 this year, and I don't want my reading challenge to be a stressful thing. For another, all the writing and editing I already talked about is going to keep me pretty busy. As for the third reason . . . well, C.S. Lewis told me to do a thing, and so I'm doing it.
  • Confused? To make it more clear, a quote:
    • "It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones." - C.S. Lewis, "On the Reading of Old Books"
    • I read this essay in November and have been chewing on the ideas ever since, and in the end reached the conclusion that Lewis is, of course, right, and therefore I'm going to take his challenge. I'm not bold enough to try one old book for every new one, but one old to every three new I can do.
    • As for what that means exactly, I've laid down a few ground rules for myself:
      • An "old book," for purposes of this challenge, means anything written before 1963. Most people whom I've asked have agreed that a book is "old" if it's more than 50 years old, so 1963- 55 years ago- works on that end. 1963 is also the year of Lewis's death, which I thought was quite fitting.
      • The old books do not have to be entirely first time reads, but at least some of them should be.
      • The exception to that: anything by Tolkien qualifies as an "old book," even though some of it may have been written after 1963 and quite a bit of it was published after his death in 1973. This exception mostly exists because I don't feel like sorting out when exactly he wrote whatever book of his catches my eye. Also, I eventually want to read the Beren and Luthien book that just came out, as well as his translation of Beowulf, and now seems as good a time as any.
      • I cannot read exclusively Lewis, Tolkien, and Austen, even though Lewis alone could probably last me a year or two and I want to read literally basically everything he wrote.
      • I don't have to count books I read for class or official news reviews towards my "new books" total if doing so will cause unnecessary stress. Likewise, if I'm home on break, have a large number of new-release library books out, and need to read them quickly so I can return them before I head back to college, I can delay reading the old books that should accompany them. The goal of this challenge is to broaden my streams of reading and thought, not to place undue burden upon myself. 
Life Goals!
  • Finish reworking the blog. If you haven't noticed, I have three nice, new writing directories up top. I haven't had much time to work on the blog design since I finished those, but the next thing I have planned is a new header. I have the design in mind; I just have to see if I can make it work!
  • Keep doing martial arts. I've really enjoyed the class this past semester, and I want to keep going- especially since some of the new people in the class are catching up to me and thus I should get to start learning new stuff within the next month or so, as long as they keep coming! I'd also like to start going to the gym on non-martial-arts nights more regularly, even if all I do is walk on the treadmill or read on the exercise bike for half an hour. I've slacked off this past year, and I need to step up my game!
  • Continue to survive college. Obviously. If I can keep my GPA too, that would be lovely. (Not that it matters greatly, since I don't plan on going to grad school and I'm not in the sciences, but it's currently a very shiny number and I want to keep it that way.)
  • Actually try tabletop roleplaying. I said this last year too, and I thought I'd found a group at one point . . . but no one responded to my attempts at contact, and so I've come to the conclusion that it was a hoax. At this point, I'm about ready to advertise for other players if I have to- the problem is that at least one of those other players has to be willing to be the GM.
  • Brush up on my German. Not that I have much prospect of going to Germany any time soon, but still, you never know when it'll come in handy. And if I pick it up again now and stay in practice this time, I'll be more than ready when I eventually do get to Germany- which I will someday, one way or another. I'd also like to pick up another language if I can, but we'll see how that works out.
How was your 2017? What goals do you have for 2018? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading, and have a great year!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)    

Sunday, December 31, 2017

November+December Doings 2017!

So, yes, I never actually got around to doing a monthly recap last month . . . oops. In my defense, November was an interesting month, and by interesting, I mean that about half of it was very chill and the other half I spent mentally screaming whenever my professors mentioned how few class days we had left or I thought about all the things I wanted and needed to do. Ah, the joys of almost-finals . . . and, of course, NaNoWriMo, because that happened. And then December was finals- which was actually pretty chill, because I finished on Wednesday and could've finished Tuesday if I'd had my act together a little more- and CHRISTMAS BREAK, which is still happening now and is obviously the best thing ever.

Writing!

  • My official NaNoWriMo goal was 25 hours; my unofficial goal was to get through my first edit of Blood in the Snow and work through as much of my second edit as possible. I decided to go with an hour-based goal because, for one thing, I didn't know precisely how many words I'd need to write, and, for another, I thought it would be less stressful than having a daily wordcount to reach, since editing can have a much more variable pace than writing. Despite this, I still felt on more than one occasion that I wouldn't finish on time . . . but I managed in the end, hitting my official goal on the very last day of Thanksgiving break.
  • Between then and the end of the month, I continued to edit and got about halfway through the second version, cutting roughly 5K words. I then proceeded to take a way-too-long break so I could work on final projects and because I got stuck on a scene.
  • Finally, literally a week before the deadline, I got back to work and . . . um. Did not edit like a madwoman for the next week, because I was scared and procrastinating, because once I finish I have to actually let people read the book, and yeah, I want people to read it but I also don't want people to tell me I'm a horrible writer or that I accidentally morally offended someone because I'm an American trying to write an Asian-esque culture and yeah. I mean, I do want to know those things- the second, at least- so I can fix them? But . . . yeah. I'm human. I'm a mess sometimes. I'm working on it.
  • But now it's finished and sent in and I'm going to try very hard not to think about it for the next three months because worrying is a good way to go crazy.

Reading!

  • I guess this isn't really surprising, given all the writing and schoolwork I've done this month, but . . . I only actually read one full book in November, despite the fact that Oathbringer and Weave a Circle Round released, I picked up several new eBooks on Black Friday, my roommate and I are in the middle of reading the Harry Potter series, and I still need to read Exiles.
  • On the upside, that one book was a good one: Turtles All the Way Down, John Green's latest release. Though I'm a Vlogbrothers fan and will at least consider just about any YouTube video involving John, Turtles is my first venture into his books. I was pleasantly surprised; usually contemporary isn't my thing, but this particular contemporary gets at the type of real that I normally only find in fantasy. Also, there were occasional references to things John's discussed in his videos (or possibly the things discussed in the videos were references to things in his book), and noticing those made me happy.
  • Besides Turtles, I reread That Hideous Strength and enjoyed it far more than I did the first time. It's definitely not a fast book, or one you're likely to appreciate if you don't understand the culture and time Lewis was writing to and from, but since I have a better grasp of that culture now (thanks, Honors Program!), I got a lot more out of it. I also read it with a journal on hand, encouraging myself to take a more thoughtful approach to reading, so I think that helped too. And I could more easily recognize the different modes of manipulation and propaganda and all that . . . it's kind of scary in some respects, because some of Lewis's words could perfectly describe what's going on today.
  • Oh, and I got a new bookshelf! And it's super pretty and big, and it's Amish, so, yeah, really nice and sturdy and high-quality. It makes me very happy. I still need to reorganize my books now that I have more space, but hopefully I'll find time for that this week.
  • December, on the other hand, was a much better reading month, because I was home for half of it and could catch up on all the reading I didn't do the rest of the semester. I spent the first week- well, mostly knitting, but when I wasn't knitting, I read Weave a Circle Round (which was excellent) and reread books to catch up for new releases. Then the week after Christmas I dug into those new releases . . . which means I basically killed myself with feels the week after Christmas by reading The Dire King and Oathbringer, but oh well. I regret nothing.
  • (Actually, Oathbringer wasn't that feels-heavy. Or hasn't been so far, other than the fact that I'm worried about Shallan. I suspect that'll change soon, though.)

Watching!

  • Yep. The roommate and I are still watching Fairy Tail. We intended to get through three arcs before break, but only managed two, Daphne and Edolas arc. Daphne was ok; I was annoyed with Grey but otherwise it was pretty interesting. Edolas, on the other hand, happens to be one of my roommate's favorite arcs. I enjoyed it, though I don't think it's my favorite. It's definitely unique and interesting and all, plus it has Mystogan backstory and he's basically one of my top ten favorite characters in the entire show, maybe one of my top five, so yay for that- even if he wasn't actually in it half as much as I wanted him to be.
  • That said, the epic boss fight at the end was a three-way Dragon Slayer teamup and it was absolutely the best thing in that show to date. (Well, that and "A bunch of stuff happened and now we're here," and "Wait! There's an unnecessarily complicated explanation!", the latter of which basically sums up everything about the show and the former of which just amuses me a lot.) Gajeel ate the dragon, y'all. And that makes no sense out of context but yeah.
  • I also ended up rewatching a bunch of Fairy Tail episodes because I had a lot of knitting to do and couldn't decide on an audiobook. So . . . yeah. That happened.
  • In addition, my sister and I are watching the Lord of the Rings extended editions! She's never seen them- which is my fault; I keep asking her to wait for me and then we run out of time on breaks- and I need to watch them again, so yeah.
  • And we watched Christmas movies. Obviously. Before and on Christmas, we got through Rudolph (which is fine) and The Little Drummer Boy (which is . . . not like I remembered?) and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (which I'd never actually watched before and don't plan to watch again). Then after Christmas we finally got to the good ones: White Christmas and A Christmas Carol (the 1984 version, which features a ridiculous number of redheads for some reason).

Life!

  • . . . I don't even remember half of what happened in November, honestly. There was a lot of running around trying to get everything done, I know that much.
  • Towards the beginning of the month, I had mock interviews, both phone and face-to-face, for my Portfolio class, which went a lot better than I expected. I was pretty nervous going into them; even if my career wasn't at stake, my grade was, and I freely admit that verbal communication is one of my weak points. (As I told a friend one day, I'm a professional writing major, not a professional talking major.) The first phone interview was especially stressful, since several of the questions caught me off guard. But, on the upside, one of the people I interviewed with said she would've hired me if it were an actual interview, so that's pretty awesome.
  • Also, partially because of one of the interviews and partially because of my intro-to-the-major class, I found out that I might be interested in instructional design, not just corporate comm. They both seem to involve a lot of variety and a good mix of writing and design, which really excites me, and I feel like helping people learn, understand, and remember concepts and skills and such better would be pretty cool. I should have an actual class on the topic next fall, so we'll see what I think once I actually give it a try, but . . . yeah. I have another idea for what I might do with my life.
  • Midway through the month, I had a free Saturday night, so I decided to treat myself to some culture by attending my university's dance showcase . . . and all I have to say is: Wow. Seriously. Wow.
  • (Ok, I actually have more to say than just that.)
  • I didn't know until now that I really liked dance that much; like, I thought it was cool and impressive and pretty, but I didn't really get it? But the showcase had a lot of swing dancing and a lot of . . . I don't know the technical word, but it was less stylized, sort of? More rough and forceful and in-your-face. Like, the type of dance I'm familiar with, aside from Irish dance, is sort of like poetry, or hymns, where it's real, but it's also very graceful and elegant and probably highly symbolic but I don't understand the symbolism and it all seems very distant. But this dancing was more like really good, really exciting prose, even though it's still poetic in a way? And I could understand what was going on, and why the dancer put this action with this part of the song, and it just made sense. So, yeah. That made me happy.
  • And then the week after that was Thanksgiving break! So I got to go home! And it was lovely! And that's when I found out about my new bookshelf, because my family bought it for me as a surprise. Plus we had Thanksgiving with our Bible study, which was fun, and we put up the Christmas tree, and my mom made a pecan pie, and I didn't really get half as much work done as I meant to, but oh well.
  • And then I got back to college and it was finals and everything was running around screaming- mentally. Not literally. I leave the running and screaming to my friends.
  • Also, CHRISTMAS! I ended up photographing the campus Christmas celebrations for the newspaper, which meant I got paid to go see all the decorated dorms and stuff- which I wanted to do, but without the extra motivation, I probably would've ended early and missed out on some of what ended up being my favorite decoration setups. (Also, I got to see the inside of the newest dorm on campus and it is nice, let me tell you.) So, yeah. Best assignment ever.
  • Then I finally got to go home on Christmas break, where I spent most of the first week frantically knitting so I could finish Christmas presents on time. Christmas itself was lovely and more relaxing, for me at least, than some other years have been. Also, I acquired several of my favorite books from this past year, so yay for that!
  • Also before Christmas, my family went down (up?) to DC and visited the Museum of the Bible and the National Christmas Tree. The museum was pretty cool, particularly the exhibit on the history of Bible versions and translations and such. As for the National Tree, well, it's about how I remember it. Seeing it again was nice, but by that point I was tired (and hungry, because I missed lunch) so I didn't enjoy it as much as I might've.
  • And now it's New Year's Eve and my Bible Study always holds a party- with the countdown at 8 or 9, not 12, because small children- and I'm quite looking forward to that. Hopefully there'll be board games and the right people to play them with, but if not . . . oh well. I know there'll be good food and a chance to see friends, so it'll be fun whatever happens.

January Plans!

  • I need to decide on a writing project for the month. I should probably get back to work on editing Fight Song, but I need to do some research first. I'm thinking of setting another time-based goal for the month, probably something along the lines of a half-hour a day, because I know I can get that in but it won't cut into other stuff as much as the full hour I needed for NaNoWriMo did. I don't know; I'll decide tomorrow.
  • Obviously, classes start up again in about a week, so . . . there's that. All but one of my classes are for either my major or my minor (Graphic Design), which should be fun. I hope it'll be fun. I have to take an hour-and-a-half class on editing at 8:30 in the morning, which probably won't be fun, but what can you do?
  • I have reading to catch up on, of course. There's always reading to catch up on. I still need to read Exiles (yes, I know, I'm a terrible person) and a few other releases from this past year, plus I really should stop procrastinating on Wheel of Time . . . oh well.
  • Also, my sister and I are going to watch and rewatch (respectively) The Lord of the Rings extended editions! This is her first time watching LOTR, because I kept insisting that she wait for me to watch them with her, and we're both pretty excited. We wanted to watch them sooner over break, but I had to finish Blood in the Snow and she's a wonderfully patient person, so yeah.
  • I may have a few other plans too, but I'll talk more about those in my 2018 goals post, which should release either tonight or tomorrow. So stay tuned for that!
How were your holidays? Are you caught up on your 2017 releases, or do you, like me, still have some that you need to get to? Any fun plans for January? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)   

Friday, December 29, 2017

End-of-Year Book Freakout "Tag" 2017


2017 is nearly at an end, y'all . . . and that means it's time for the second half of my "Best of" book roundup! Once again, I'm using my modified End-of-Year Book Freakout tag because that's a lot more fun than just trying to compile a list of X favorites (and low-key angsting about how to pick one book over another because they're ALL awesome, just in different ways and yeah). So, let's go!

1. Best book you've read in the second half of 2017:
I've read a lot of good books this half of the year . . . but since this is the best book, not the best sequel, I'm going to say that this is a tie between two:

Before She Ignites is pretty unusual for the fantasy genre, particularly YA fantasy. Most of it takes place in a prison. There's not a lot of action and quite a lot of political maneuvering. A few characters have special powers, but those aren't the focus. It's not set in a facsimile of Medieval Europe but rather in a country reminiscent of some of the Pacific Islands. The main character is the Chosen One, in a sense, but that's almost an arbitrary title, and she's really an ordinary girl in an extraordinary position. And the book actually touches on some pretty serious real issues and, in my opinion, handles them well. Plus, there's dragons. What more could you want?


Weave a Circle Round is another rather unusual book, one that involves time travel and stories and a personification of the eternal conflict between Reason and Chaos. I'm very fond of the last bit. Any story with a personification of chaos is practically guaranteed to be awesome. This is Kari Maaren's first novel, but she's the author/artist of two of my favorite webcomics, West of Bathurst and It Never Rains. True to the form established in those stories, Weave a Circle Round begins as almost magical realism or very odd contemporary, with all the strangeness probably explainable by natural causes or unreliable senses . . . but then the time travel kicks in. Also as usual, the protagonist of Weave a Circle Round tends to, as the author puts it, "muddle through" her adventure, which, honestly, is what I'd probably do in her place and is quite relatable on the whole.

Also, while it's not quite as high on the list, I'd like to mention Wanted: A Superhero to Save the World, Bryan Davis's latest release. It's middle-grade, but super fun and pretty unique for a superhero novel.
2. Best sequel you've read in the second half of 2017:
I think we all know what I'm going to say here:

I'm technically still reading Oathbringer, Brandon Sanderson's latest release, but it's easily shaping up to be not just one of the best sequels of the year but one of the best books overall. We've got answers, we've got new questions, we've got increased conflict both external and internal, we've got spren both awesome (allo, Syl and Pattern!) and creepy . . .  And we've got Dalinar flashbacks, which is interesting, to say the least. Dalinar was very different in his youth from the man we know now. Also, Shallan is awesome even if she's making me a bit nervous currently. Just sayin'.

Of course, there are a few other sequels that are well worth mentioning. In order of publication:

Thick as Thieves had a distinct lack of Eugenides but managed to be awesome anyway. Plus it's a Persia-esque setting, which is pretty unique.

And The Dire King was a magnificent finale to the series- epic, thrilling, feels-heavy but not lacking in the usual Jackaby humor, with an ending that's just- I can't even. I can't.
3. New release you haven't read yet but want to: 
There are a few more of these than I'd like . . . college life is not exactly what you'd call convenient for keeping up with new releases unless you're willing to spend a small fortune every month and have a lot of storage space. That said, at the top of the list is:

The Lost Plot! The latest Invisible Library book! It's out, it's out, it's ouuuuuuuttttttt! (And I didn't realize it until earlier this week!) And I need it yesterday!

Of course, there's a few others that I'm also looking forward to. For example:

The Empty Grave is the latest and last in the Lockwood and Co. series, and while I nearly gave up on it after The Hollow Boy, The Creeping Shadow convinced me to see the series through to the end.

An Enchantment of Ravens sounds like a unique fantasy story; a bit heavier on the romance than I think I usually read, but still fun, and it's gotten great reviews from a lot of my friends.

Renegades is the latest book from Marissa Meyer. From the reviews and excerpts I've read, I'm not expecting to like this as much as I do The Lunar Chronicles, but it should still be pretty cool.
4. Most anticipated release for next year:
Brandon Sanderson is releasing another YA novel! It's called Skyward and is apparently a sci-fi take on the "boy and his dragon" storyline, involving mysterious aliens, a girl who wants to be a pilot, and a sentient (or, at least, soul-bearing) spaceship. Sanderson says that it's not in the Cosmere or Reckoners universes, but that it is in the continuity of something else he's written. So, that means it could be connected to Alcatraz, the Legion books, Perfect State, Snapshot, or The Rithmatist. I'm not sure which it'll be, but my money's on Perfect State, since the premise of that universe allows for near-infinite genres and storylines.

A few other books I'm excited for:

Ink, Iron, and Glass I mentioned in my Winter 2017-18 Reads post, but if you missed that: it's steampunk, involves writers who can bring their worlds to life, and generally sounds pretty awesome.

The Penderwicks at Last is the final book in a series I've been reading for a while now. It's contemporary, but I love it anyway, and while I'm sad the series is almost over, I'm excited to see how it ends.

And, finally, Fawkes is historical fantasy and should be pretty exciting. Plus, while I haven't read anything by Nadine Brandes yet, I've heard she's a very good author.

5. Biggest disappointment:

Shadow Run was undoubtedly the biggest disappointment of the entire year. I was promised Firefly and a very cool premise. Instead, I got the biggest mess of cliches I'd read in a long while and a romance that completely overshadowed the actual plot. Yeah. I'm still bitter, if you can't tell.

6. Biggest surprise:

I don't normally read contemporary; quite honestly, I associate it with romantic fluff, overblown teenage angst, boy/friendship drama, and questionable content. So, while I enjoy John Green from vlogbrothers and such, I was a bit nervous when I ended up reading Turtles All the Way Down so I could review it for my college newspaper. Yet this book is honestly one of the better ones I've read this year; it's powerful and poignant and philosophical, and, yes, there's angst and drama, but it's well done, and the story touches that deeper Reality which is so vibrant in the good spec-fic I love. Plus, there's a refreshing lack of romantic fluff (even less than in most fantasy novels) and, other than one scene, not a lot of questionable content either.

7. Favorite new-to-you author:
I'm going to go with Kyle Robert Schultz, author of The Beast of Talesend and the rest of the Beaumont and Beasley books. I've only read the first of these books, but it was wonderful and mysterious and steampunky and a brilliant mix of fairy tale and original material and yeah. I want to read the rest of the series yesterday.

8. Newest fictional crush/ship:
Um. I don't really have any new crushes or ships that I feel strongly about? So instead I'm just going to say that Charlie and Abigail from Jackaby are still one of the best things ever, as is Shadolin Shallan x Adolin) from the Stormlight Archive. (Shaladin shippers, I refer you to literally every interaction between Shallan and Adolin in Part 1 of Oathbringer.) Also, I knew (spoiler for Ghostly Echoes + The Dire King) Jackaby and Jenny were a thing, but I didn't realize just how much I like them as a thing until I read The Dire King.

9. Newest favorite characters:
Oooooh. Definitely new people here.
  • Nick, Cordelia, and Crispin from The Beast of Talesend are absolutely perfect and I love their personalities and character dynamics and interactions and YES.
  • Cuerva Lachance from Weave a Circle Round is . . . I don't even know how to properly describe her. She's mysterious and enigmatic and strange and amusing and terrifying and does things because they're impossible and might be one of my favorite parts of the book.  
  • I rediscovered how awesome Ransom from C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy is. I have some friends who really like him, and yeah, I can see why. I'm also 99.9% certain that he's based off Tolkien, so . . . yeah.
  • Eddie, Damocles, and Gilbert from Wanted: A Superhero to Save the World are all also awesome in their own way: Eddie's super relatable for a 12-year-old boy, Damocles is . . . he's a character and I sometimes don't quite know what to do with him, but he's interesting and I love him, and Gilbert is just fun. So, yeah.
I feel like I should have someone from Harry Potter on here, since I finally started reading the series? But while I do quite like certain characters (*cough*everyWeasleyeveryes*cough*andalsoHagrid*cough*), I'm not sure if they make the top list? Plus I read so many AU and headcanon sort of things on Pinterest that I don't always know what in my head is real about the characters and what's just something that someone else came up with. It's a problem. 

10. A book that made you cry:
No crying, but while reading The Dire King, the conclusion to the Jackaby series, I did much "Nonononono"-ing. Also some quiet screaming, not-so-quiet keening, and possibly a bit of whimpering. The book killed me with feels, basically. I'm still not over it.

11. A book that made you happy:

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans is absolutely adorable, ok? It's got a precocious young girl and a crotchety old lady dragon and a lovely mixing of magic and reality and just makes my heart happy in general. The rest of the series is good too, but the first book is undoubtedly the best.

12. Favorite book to film adaptation you've seen this half of the year:
Um. I rewatched the LOTR extended editions. Does that count?

13. Favorite post(s) you've done this half of the year:
I really enjoyed finally writing my Plantser's Guide to Worldbuilding! Also, I wrote a thing. It involves food, love, and magic, and what else do you really need in life?
14. Most beautiful book you've bought/received this half of the year:

I'm going to take a moment to gush again about the prettiness of the new version of Do You Take This Quest? Story-wise, it's still not my favorite of the Bookania Quests, but the cover is my favorite; I love the purple and the watercolor feel and the softness and it just makes me happy for some reason.

15. Any other books you want to babble about for any other reason?
As per the usual, a few books that I still need to read even though they're no longer really recent releases:

Exiles by Jaye L. Knight remains on my TBR list, despite the fact that I've owned the book since September. I hope to fix that by the end of break, though. And eventually I need to break this wait-forever-to-read-Ilyon streak that I have going.

 The Last Magician came out in July, but I haven't been able to get ahold of it until now because libraries are uncooperative. Also, college. I checked it out from the library yesterday; hopefully I'll manage to read it before break ends.

I still haven't read The Lord of Chaos or any other Wheel of Time books, despite the fact that I own significantly more of them. In my defense, they're long and not half as exciting as Sanderson, and therefore I have to work myself up to them.

Also, I finally got ahold of the whole Spellsmith and Carver series, including an actual physical copy of the first book, so I really want to read those . . . I just have to find the right time, when another book isn't higher priority.

And there you have it! Feel free to borrow this tag for your own end-of-year posts or to answer in comments any of the questions that piqued your interest. I'd love to hear what you've been reading lately!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Christianity and Mythology: Daniel and the Triune Quest Blog Tour


Want to win prizes? Look for the secret word in this post and follow the Rafflecopter giveaway instructions at the end.

Hey'a, everyone! Christmas break is upon us, or nearly upon us, and that hopefully means that we all suddenly have about 5x as much time for reading as we did a week ago. Huzzah! Some of us already have a long list of books to catch up on, but for those who don't- or for those who, like me, might wonder to themselves why they can't say no to another book- I'm here to tell you about a new Middle Grade Christian fantasy release: Daniel and the Triune Quest. This book is the second in Nathan Lumbatis's Sons and Daughters series, which combines a modern setting with Aztec mythology and honestly sounds pretty cool. Better still, the author is also here with a guest post about how he decided to combine Christianity and mythology, plus there's a giveaway at the end! But first, a little about the book and author:

About the Book
The past year of Daniel’s life has been anything but normal. Adoption by his Heavenly Father? Check. Become the Vessel for the mystical Sun Sword? Check. Charged with a quest to fight the source of all evil? Check. But hey, he made it look good.

Now it’s his best friend, Ben’s, turn to become the Vessel for the Triune Shield, and Daniel’s ready to lead the charge on another adventure. But, they only have three days to find the shield before the Enemy catches up, and obtaining it will require the last thing either of the boys is ready for: self-sacrifice. Daniel must die to his pride, and Ben must pay the ultimate price. They’ll need a miracle if they hope to survive.


Find it on: Author site || Amazon || Goodreads

To learn more about the first book in the series, Daniel and the Sun Sword, feel free to check it out on Amazon or Goodreads or watch the book trailer. 

About the Author
Nathan grew up in the woods of Alabama, where he spent his time exploring, hiking, and dreaming up stories. Now, as a child/adolescent therapist and author, he’s teaching kids and teens how to redeem their stories using Biblical principles. He still lives in Alabama, where you will find him with his wife and three kids every chance he gets.​

Find Nathan on: Author Site || Facebook || Twitter || Instagram (nathan.lumbatis)

Guest Post: Christianity and Mythology

 Speculative Fiction begins by presuming the basics of a Christian worldview and then asking "What if?". One of the central What if's of Daniel and the Triune Quest, and the Sons and Daughters series as a whole, has to do with the origin of worldwide mythologies: What if every culture's myths grew out of man's fallen memory of the one true God, his plan for redemption, and the rebellion of dark angels? Wouldn't there be traces of truth and the thread of redemption in those ancient stories? 


No doubt some believe as much. For Christians, we find support for this in at least two places. According to legend, the Mazzaroth, the Jewish zodiac, was a mnemonic device for orally teaching the story of redemption since the time of Adam. It’s easy to imagine how details could be lost and altered through oral tradition passed down over the centuries, which would then be woven into myth.

Even more interesting in my mind is the fallen angel theory which most church fathers, and nearly the entire Jewish culture of the 2nd temple period (525 B.C. to 70 A.D.) believed. For those unfamiliar with this, this is the theory that fallen angels had children with mortal women, thus giving rise to “demigods.” Scriptural reference for this would be Genesis 6, Numbers 13, 2 Peter 2, Jude 4-8, among others. For an exhaustive, and terribly interesting discussion of this, I recommend you to Dr. Mike Heiser’s book, The Unseen Realm. With this view in mind, it’s no surprise that such detailed mythologies could arise throughout the world: they weren’t just imagination, but were based on eye witness accounts of supernatural beings interacting with mortals.

For nerds like me, the real fun starts when you begin looking for the roots of truth in ancient mythologies. It’s like a scavenger hunt for dorks.

So, what are we looking for? Let’s set our parameters as:
1)     An all-powerful creator-god or supernatural force
2)     A race of lesser beings; mortal and in peril
3)     A god-man who plays some sort of savior role
4)     A god or an immortal filled with evil or destructive power

Here are three myths* that fit the bill. Since the first book in the Sons and Daughters series, Daniel and the Sun Sword, took place in Peru, we’ll look at the Incan myths woven into that story first. We’ll then move on to the Indian myths included in Daniel and the Triune Quest, and then one extra mythology just for good measure.

Incan Myths
Viracocha: The Incan creator-god. After creating the natural world and the cosmos, he turned his mind to mankind. His first attempt at creating people displeased him, as the first versions were brainless giants. So, he wiped them out with a flood, and created a less barbaric race. Then, he took to wandering the world as a kindly beggar, helping those in need, and appearing in times of trouble.
Mankind: Men were created when Viracocha breathed life into stones. They were seen as his children, and he loved them as a father.
 Inti: The god of the sun and the son of Viracocha. After being sent to earth by his father, he and his sister-wife, Mama Killa, taught mankind the basics of life and founded the great city of Cuzco
Supai: The Incan god of the dead, king of the demons, and the ruler of the underworld. He was such a nasty fellow, in fact, that the Incans would sacrifice their children to appease him.

Indian Myths
Indian myths are very different from other ancient stories, in part because there is so much variation, philosophy, and moral ambiguity. More specifically, evil and good are not so clearly defined, and elements of both frequently show up in even the most revered of gods.

Because of this, you’ll notice that what appears to be the most obvious parallel, is not always the best choice.

Brahman: The ultimate, highest, universal principle and the formal cause of all that exists. It is the transcendent, unchanging, eternal truth which puts all things into motion. For those familiar with Hindu myths, Brahma would’ve been an obvious choice since he is the creator-god. However, in many creation stories, he is equal in power and authority, if not less than, his counterparts, Shiva and Vishnu. Additionally, he, himself, was created or born, and thus was not the best choice for an omnipotent originator-god role.
Mankind: Created from Brahma’s body or soul, as the first and strongest “animal.” Manu and Shatrupa are the first man and woman, who ask Lord Brahma if they can have dominion over the world. Manu is later preserved by the gods through a worldwide flood.
Purusha: The cosmic man/consciousness who was sacrificed by the gods to create all life. How does this jive with Brahma? No idea. Welcome to Hinduism.
Shiva: A strange mix of good and evil, Shiva is one of the Trimurti, alongside Brahma and Vishnu. His job is to destroy the universe at the end of each age.

Egyptian Myths
Ra: The creator and father-god in Egyptian myths. He called everything into existence by speaking its name.
Mankind: Created from Ra’s tears, they were originally brutish and rebellious. They plotted against Ra, who sent divine retribution in the form of the goddess Sekhmet.
Osiris: Divine son of Ra, and god of death, the afterlife, and resurrection. He came to earth to rule as a king and bring civilization to mankind. He was tricked and murdered by his divine brother, Set, only to later be resurrected. 
Set: Evil brother of Osiris, and the god of chaos, war, storms, deserts, and destruction.

If these legends were derivative from the true redemption story, what likely led to the obscuration of truth in these cultures? One can only speculate. In Daniel and the Sun Sword, it was the fear of Supai that led to the Inca's deception. In Daniel and the Triune Quest, it was mankind’s rejection of moral absolutes. Regardless, the truth of redemption has endured...and makes the perfect backdrop for any great story.

*For any mythology aficionados out there: I know that for any one version of a myth, there are at least two others that vary in detail. I have presented here simply those versions which parallel the redemptive thread of Christianity.

  Giveaway Time!

As you visit the tour stops, you should be collecting secret words from each post. Once you reach the last stop, combine these words into a phrase and type it into the Rafflecopter linked below in order to be entered into the giveaway. One lucky winner will receive signed copies of both books in the Suns and Daughters series, along with series bookmarks; a second winner will get a signed copy of Daniel and the Triune Quest and a bookmark. Good luck!

Enter the giveaway!

Are you excited for Daniel and the Triune Quest? Are there any other mythologies you think someone really should write a book about sometime? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
 -Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Don't forget to visit the other tour stops!Monday, December 18, 2017: Author Site
Tuesday, December 19, 2017: Light and Shadows
Wednesday, December 20, 2017: Dreams and Dragons- you are here.
Thursday, December 21, 2017: Christian Fiction Review Guru
Friday, December 22, 2017: Speculative Faith
Saturday, December 23, 2017: The Write Stuff Radio