Friday, April 3, 2020

March 2020 Doings!

Hey'a, all! So, I think we can all agree that this last month has been utter madness, yeah? It feels like overnight, we went from "This is normal" to "State of national panic," and we're all realizing why "May you live in interesting times" is considered a curse. But for now, most of us are (I'm pretty sure) alive, so the Doings! go on as usual.

Writing!

Social distancing can't stop a good adventure, y'know?
  • My goal for March was 300 words or 30 minutes per day, five days a week. I'm happy to say that I've mostly kept that goal; the only week I failed to achieve it was the second week of March — aka, the week that all insanity broke loose. Before and after that, I've kept up pretty well, with a daily average of close to 750 words per day.
  • Most of those words went towards D&D writing. As I think I mentioned at some point, I wanted to get the rest of my D&D campaign (or at least this season of it) written before Camp NaNoWriMo began. I didn't quite achieve that goal, but I mostly accomplished it, so I'm happy.
  • In addition, my DM for the campaign I'm in asked if I had any info about my character's family that I wanted to give him. My response was basically "How much do you want?" My character's family is a pretty significant part of her backstory, plus I love character creation, so I took the opportunity and ran with it. The end result was about nineteen pages long and had three or four paragraphs of information for each of the twenty-ish characters on my character's family tree (all of which are parents, step-parents, siblings, or step-and-half-siblings, for the record). My goal was to provide enough information that if I (or someone else) ever needed to play them as an actual character, the only thing I'd have to do would be figuring out statistics and exact mechanics. Given how disappointed I was that I can't actually play some of them, I think I succeeded.
  • Outside of D&D, I've lately been doing some brainstorming on the realmatic theory of my multiverse with a friend of mine, basically figuring out implications of the parallel and perpendicular worlds that I proposed in this year's New Years special. It's been fun; he's much more of a planner than I am, and he asks good questions that help me find the holes in my ideas and the concepts that need more development or don't make sense. I also ended up making diagrams in Illustrator to help me think through my ideas, and that was unreasonably fun.

Reading!

  • So, yes. That is a grand total of three books that I've read this month. They were all very good books, though, so that counts for something, right?
  • As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I reread the Wingfeather Saga so I could review the new editions. They're just as good this time around as they were the first, if not better. If you want to know more, you can check out the post I wrote with my thoughts.
  • The other book I read was Bryan Davis's new release, Let the Ghosts Speak. And — yes, it was weird. But it was also twisty and mysterious and atmospheric and thought-provoking and excellent for reading while curled up under the covers on a dark night. On that note, I apparently misreported the release date; it came out in paperback on Amazon just a few days ago, so if you want to pick it up (which you should; it's excellent), you can do that already! But, yeah. I'm going to post a full thoughts post next Friday, but you don't need to wait for that unless you really want to.
  • I also finally finished reading the Schlock Mercenary webcomic. Or, rather, I caught up to the most recent posts . . . which means I'm stuck reading it at the very slow pace of one comic per day. I mean, don't get me wrong; most of the webcomics I read update once a week, so this is an improvement! But since I initially read it at the rate of a few books a day, it's a tiny bit agonizing. But it's still a very good webcomic. (I also discovered a few other very good webcomics in the last several weeks, so perhaps I shall do another "Favorite Webcomics" list at some point in the near future.)

Watching!

  • So, funny story. My roommate loves this movie, Romancing the Stone. Despite what the name implies, it's an Indiana-Jones-esque adventure movie featuring a successful romance writer as the lead character. Anyway. For the past year at least, we've been saying that we should watch it together — but we never did, because we can barely find time to watch Avatar, let alone a full-length movie.
  • Then, after I get back to Virginia the second time, my family decides to watch a movie. And we're going through the usual "well, what are we going to watch, given that no two people in this household actually have the same taste in movies" dialogue (we really don't; it's a problem), and I ask about another movie that my parents had out from the library that Alana really enjoys, The Great Race. And the parents have already watched it, but my mom brings up the fact that we actually own Romancing the Stone . . . so we watch it, because we can all actually agree on it.
  • And it was actually really good. I honestly might prefer it to the one Indiana Jones I've watched — though that's partially because it includes some of my actual favorite tropes. It also helps that the female lead actually does take initiative and isn't just useless — she sometimes is clueless, yes, but it scans as a more realistic "city slicker lost in the jungle and in way over her head" sort of clueless, so it doesn't really bother me.
  • (I still find the timing of when I watched it ironic, though.)

Life!

  • So, we left off our last Doings! with me still at home, just finishing up Spring Break. This Doings! finds me home once again . . . but that's getting a bit ahead of myself.
  • I did actually go back to Cedarville, for the record, getting back Sunday, March 8 — which was, honestly, a really good day. My friends and I celebrated with a cheese-and-game night, which was both delicious and delightful.
  • Monday and Tuesday were a bit rough, as I was tired even with the rest I'd gotten over spring break and I was having a hard time getting back into the rhythm of life. Tuesday, Dr. White, Cedarville's president, made an announcement in chapel that no, Cedarville wasn't going to shut down; we were going to keep on going as we had.
  • Aaaaaand then things went sideways, and Tuesday evening, one of the girls in our dorm with a late-in-the-day class said that her professor had strongly implied that Cedarville would be shutting down after all  — and once I'd heard that one rumor, more seemed to come out of the woodwork. That Tuesday night was honestly harder than any other day or night this month. All that's happened since then has been hard. But the mix of certainty and uncertainty — the fact that I knew things, but I couldn't act on them because I didn't know them — the fact that I knew but couldn't ask any professors about it because I wasn't supposed to know — that left me sleepless and afraid.
  • Wednesday morning, people tried to carry on as normal. The chapel was packed; everyone was waiting to hear what was going to happen. Dr. White had our chapel speaker speak as usual, though he kept the message short. And then he came up and made the announcement: Cedarville was going online for two weeks; all students who could vacate the dorms were to do so by Friday, and classes were canceled for the next two days so professors could figure out how to transition.
  • My sister and I hastily made plans: we'd spend the weekend with my roommate's family so we could let the main rush of departing traffic get ahead of us and so I could have a little more time with my roommate, just in case. Then we headed back to Virginia a week after we'd returned to Cedarville.
  • Since then, we've mostly been trying to find a rhythm and attempting to keep up with all that needs to be done. Everything seems to take longer at home because I don't have class times and meal times and evening plans and everything else to work around. And I am utterly sick of seeing people talk about having all this free time at home, even anxiety-plagued free time. Technically, I do have more free time than I did at Cedarville. But it sure doesn't feel like I do.
  • Anyway. On a happier note, I got a new laptop! It's very sleek and fancy and can fold into a tablet if I want it to. And it comes with a digital pen/stylus, which is going to be great for graphic design and art stuff once I figure out the most effective way to use it. And it's just so pretty and crisp and actually works with Bluetooth transmissions without a USB dongle thing and yeah.
  • I also tried out another new sourdough roll recipe, this time with sausage-sandwich-type rolls. Mine turned out a bit shorter than I intended them to; I think I worried too much about making them big enough around and not enough about making them long enough. (I miscalculated which directions they'd puff, pretty much.) But they tasted great and ended up working well enough for Italian sausage sandwiches.
  • Also, the last two D&D sessions in the campaign I'm a player in have been interesting. Long story short, we were trying to temporarily take control of a sizable band of orcs so we could stop them from attacking a city (because we had seven people including NPC allies, and that's not enough to take on a thousand+ orcs) by tricking them into thinking we were someone else (a plan my character was not 100% on board with, but she couldn't come up with a better idea) . . . and we actually were succeeding for a while. And then my character decided she wanted to check on an NPC whom the orcs had captured and whom we were hoping to rescue, and that indirectly led to our sorcerer, who was leading the deception, making a couple mistakes that revealed he wasn't who he claimed to be . . . not to everyone, mind you, but to one particular orc. Who then decided to corner my paladin in the dead of night and question her until she tripped up, which happened a lot faster because, y'know, deception is not my or my character's strong suit. So, yes. The party wizard and I were the only ones of the party still in the camp (the sorcerer was off doing other things; the ranger and the fighter/warlock had gone to track down another orc), so we got chased out, and then our sorcerer rolled poorly multiple times while trying to teleport back to us and high-key nearly died, so . . . yeah. This is why they tell you not to split the party. Also why you shouldn't try to run a con with a paladin in the party. Even if the paladin isn't so strictly lawful that she'll sabotage the plan on principle, the odds of her being able to keep up the cover under pressure aren't great.
  • Also, I made crumpets. Well, technically, they're pikelets. But still. Life goal accomplished.

April Plans

  • I'm probably insane, but yes, I'm doing Camp NaNoWriMo. I'm aiming for 30,000 words, primarily on Blood in the Earth/Soil (nope, still haven't decided which one I'm naming it) . . . but, I also have a session left to write in this season of my D&D campaign, a white paper, and a capstone paper. So, in the interest of not going crazy, I'm going a little bit rebel and ruling that at least half or 500 words of my daily count have to be in my novel . . . but the other half can be other projects, whether that's D&D, school projects, or another writing project with a quickly-approaching deadline. Hopefully, that will help keep me sane.
  • My sister and I also have to go back to Cedarville this month to get all the stuff we couldn't cram into our car on the trip down, so prayers for that would be appreciated. No one likes the fact that we have to travel, but we also need our things.
  • Outside of that, I'll just be keeping on with business as usual, or as close to it as possible with the online classes situation. It's honestly starting to feel almost normal at this point, even the pandemic, which is . . . scary. But normal means that people, myself included, are functioning, so I'll take it.
  • In D&D news, the campaign I run is about to hit its season two finale, which I am very excited about! I have the whole thing written already, though I do need to make a couple edits based on last session. (I may have made those last night after I finished writing this post. Hard to say.) I think it'll be a properly difficult challenge for the end of a storyline, and we should have some interesting character moments . . . I hope so, anyway.
  • I would like to be able to do some baking at some point, but we'll see if that happens or not. Flour, as it turns out, is on the list of things that are hard to find (partially because of people stocking up for social isolation; partially because everyone and their aunt is apparently doing sourdough now). We'll see what happens.
How was your March? What's something good that's happened in your life lately? Are you doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month? (And if you are, do you need a writing group? Or another writing group? Deborah O'Carroll and I made one, and we have spots open!) Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah Pennington

Friday, March 27, 2020

Reasons to Love the Wingfeather Saga (Part the First)

Hey'a, everyone! So, as I mentioned in last week's post, Andrew Peterson and Waterbrook Press recently re-released the first two Wingfeather Saga books, and I made the release street team. As you may also remember, the release took place the week that everything descended into chaos and madness, which meant I neither reread the books in as timely a fashion as I intended nor blogged about them when I planned. But, better late than never, and I'll take any excuse to ramble about the books I love! So, here is Part the First of my non-exhaustive list of reasons to love (and read, and reread, and reread again) the Wingfeather Saga. I'll be focusing primarily on the first two books, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and North! Or Be Eaten in this post, and I'll talk about the other two books, Monster in the Hollows and The Warden and the Wolf King, in my second post, which will go up when those two rerelease. Hopefully the world will be a little less crazy then, yeah?


Reasons to Love the Wingfeather Saga
(Part the First)

  1. It's a very family-oriented series. I mean this in both senses. It is a story that the whole family can enjoy (and my whole family does, and so do the wholes of several other families I know that include a much wider variety of ages). But it's also a story very focused on familial relationships. That's consistent across all four novels, but you get the biggest variety of those relationships in these first two novels. These two are also where you most clearly see the relationship between Leeli and her grandfather, which has a special place in my heart.
  2. It has footnotes! I've mentioned this before, but I love footnotes in fantasy. Whether used seriously or in humor, I feel like they give another layer of depth to the narrative and worldbuilding. In some respects, they give some of the effects of having a Silmarillion-and-then-some behind the story without having to actually write those background books (unless you want to). In any case, they certainly make the story feel like something that's been given to you out of that world, and they give the author a chance to add all the fun little asides that they can't put in the actual story.
  3. It has absolutely amazing artwork (in the new versions). Practically speaking, I recognize why most fantasy novels don't have a lot of artwork in them. Artwork requires an artist, and getting an artist requires a fair bit of money and time. However, I do think that good artwork dropped in here and there in appropriate places can help bring a story to life. So, I quite enjoy the fact that the new editions of the Wingfeather Saga has some absolutely gorgeous art at key points. Plus, the characters (except for two) actually look like I imagined them! Which is awesome!
  4. You need to meet Artham. Look, I am not going to make a list of my favorite heroes in fantasy fiction. Even if you let me make two lists, one for heroes and one for heroines, I'd spend the entire time second-guessing my picks. But one of the few who I wouldn't second-guess hails from these books, and his name is Artham. If you've read the books, you know who I mean and you most likely agree. Artham is magnificent, and his part of the story contains some of the most heartbreaking lows and the most thrilling triumphs. (Other people might argue with me on that. That's fine. I'm probably biased.) And besides being a great character, Artham has inspired some of my characters, so . . . yeah. He's cool.
  5. It's a story about kids who are actually kids and are treated like kids (but not in a bad way). Maybe I've just gotten salty and cynical as I've become an adult-ish person, but I become more and more frustrated with some fantasy books in which the kids are given an unrealistic amount of responsibility and then handle it unrealistically well, or where it's constantly the kids solving the problems because the adults are, for some mysterious reason, unable to do so. But in the Wingfeather books, the kids are kids. They generally think like kids and act like kids, and they're treated like kids. When they aren't treated like kids, when they're forced into situations that force them to grow up too fast, that strip away joy and innocence, it's treated as a genuine tragedy. And I appreciate that a lot.
Have you read the Wingfeather Saga yet? What do you think are the biggest reasons to love it? If you haven't read it yet, have I convinced you to give it a try? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah Pennington

Friday, March 20, 2020

Spring 2020 Reads!

Hello, everyone! It is officially spring; the flowers are blooming outside my window, and yesterday it actually felt kinda sorta warm! So that's a bit of hope for y'all in this crazy, stressful period of life. And I've got several more bits of hope as well in the form of new books releasing this season. Some of the ones I'm most excited about already released, but that's fine; I'll talk about them anyway. Let's get started!

Spring 2020 Reads!

1. Havenfall by Sara Holland (March 3). We all know how much I love portal fantasies. We all also know how much I love fantasy murder mysteries. So if you put those together in a fabulous inn-between-the-worlds, well, it sounds like just my cup of tea! I'm super hopeful that I'll get to pick up Havenfall soon in some form (though I have heard it has some LGBT stuff in it . . . so we'll see how much of that there is).

2. Rerelease: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson (March 10). Aka what I was supposed to post about last Friday but didn't because I was too busy packing, doing job interviews, and trying to figure out my life (and doing homework in between). But, yes, the first two Wingfeather Saga books rereleased with gorgeous new cover art and illustrations, and I highly recommend picking them up. If you've read them before, you'll be delighted to reexperience the beauty of these stories — and if you haven't read them, well, you're in for a treat!

3. The Empire of Dreams by Rae Carson (April 7). I loved the Fire and Thorns trilogy back when I first read it (all the way back in 2014, what the pumpernickel); it was one of my first tastes of fantasy that stepped outside the traditional medieval European setting and one of the books that led to my falling in love with fantasy court intrigue. The Empire of Dreams sounds like a very different story — which is good, but I'm excited to return to the same setting and some of the same characters. (Also, I've been told that there's no? romantic? plotline? in this book? Which I am far too excited for, I'm sorry.)

4. Let the Ghosts Speak by Bryan Davis (April 15). Bryan Davis has a habit of publishing books and then doing next to no marketing for those books, so I'm glad I'm catching this one before it comes out. I'm really not sure what to think about this novel; it's kind of a historical murder mystery, but with bonus ghosts? What even. (Also, Bryan Davis apparently really appreciates Joan of Arc, because this is the second time she's popped up as a character in one of his books.) I get to find out soon, though, since I managed to score an ARC. (Whoo!)

5. The Silence of Bones by June Hur (April 21). Ok, this is not my usual genre; it's a historical mystery set in 1800s Korea and sounds like it could end up being a bit dark. But, y'know, I did say I wanted to step outside the speculative fiction genre more. And we've already established that I love a good mystery. So, I'm excited to give this one a try.

6. Moonscript by H.S.J. Williams (May 7). This is almost certainly the book on this list that I've been waiting for the longest! I've been anticipating the release of Moonscript for, I don't know, seven or eight years? It was back when Anne Elisabeth Stengl was doing her mentoring-young-authors thing (and still writing Goldstone Wood; I think it might have been before Starflower came out, in fact) and Hannah was one of the mentees. I got a glimpse of it through Stengl's blog and have been following (and befriending) Hannah ever since. And now, at last, the hope becomes reality and Moonscript can be on my shelves. (Plus, I scored an ARC of this one too, so huzzah! No, I haven't read it yet; I've been distracted by the Wingfeather Saga. But soon!)

7. By the Book by Amanda Sellet (May 12). We finish off with another not-my-usual-genre title. By the Book is contemporary — YA contemporary romance at that. But it's also about a classics-loving girl who's creating a romance survival guide based on literary romances, so . . . that's kind of hard to resist. Here's hoping that it turns out more like Pride and Prejudice than Emma.

And there's my list! Which of these are you most excited for? Are there any spring releases that I missed that I should be psyched about? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah P

Friday, March 6, 2020

February 2020 Doings!

Behold! I live! I apologize for dropping off the face of the earth, blog-wise, the last two weeks. With classes, writing, social events, and the need for decent sleep all coming in front of the need to write blog posts, blogging just didn't happen. And, fair warning, I might be a bit spotty for the next couple months as well. But for now, I'm here (and on spring break!), so let's get on with the Doings of the last month!

Writing!

  • My goal for February was to write 500 words or 30 minutes a day, five days per week. I kept that goal for the first three weeks, and then I gave myself the last week as a grace week because I had a lot to get done before I left on break. Still, I wrote a total of 16,707 words, with an average of 756 words per day, so I'd say that's pretty solid.
  • Most of those words were D&D-related, unsurprisingly. I wrote a one-shot, plus three campaign episodes (one of which could have been a one-shot in its own right — that one involved homebrewing my own monster villain, which was interesting), plus the Valentine's Day short stories. For anyone who missed those, they showcased the first meeting of a pair of NPCs from my campaign from each person's perspective. Ardent's perspective was on Light and Shadows, while Tiria's was on Dreams and Dragons.
  • Outside of that, I did a little more work on Blood in the Earth/Soil, which mostly consisted of finishing up the scene I'd been working on and then writing the first line of the next scene. (That next scene is what I've been working on during break; it's going well. One of the sisters who hasn't been in the spotlight much gets to play a bigger role and interact with Eun-Ji, plus plot stuff is set in motion. It's great.) I also toyed with another writing project, but ended up dropping it because it conflicted with a different novel (or novella) that I plan to write in the future.

Reading!

  • I did a little better with reading this month than I did last month, which is good. I finished up my reread of the Illuminae Files around the beginning of the month. Everything I said about them last month stands; they're excellent books and I anticipate coming back to them many more times. Also, can I reiterate how much I appreciate that the authors didn't give us a grimdark ending? Or grimdark anything, really? I think it's become almost a trend for endings of YA fiction to focus almost as much on what was lost as what was gained, but you really don't get that in this series.
  • How To was also excellent! I think I may have enjoyed What If? just a little bit more, but I think How To is a little more helpful in certain respects. If you're a writer who tries to get some measure of scientific realism in your stories, I'd recommend picking it up; even though most of the advice is sarcastic, there is some genuinely useful information in here (especially if you tend to write dramatic, over-the-top villains).
  • At the end of February and beginning of March, I did a little early celebrating of March Magics by rereading Charmed Life and The Many Lives of Christopher Chant (the first two Chrestomanci Chronicles, nicely contained in one volume) and Castle in the Air. I actually enjoyed both of the Chrestomanci books more this time around than I did the first time — which is saying something; I really like Chrestomanci. And Castle in the Air was, of course, delightful.
  • Continuing the reread trend: Redwall's been on my mind on and off throughout February, so I decided to reread Lord Brocktree to see how it held up. The answer is "surprisingly well" — the prose and technical quality of the book are nothing special, but it's refreshing to read a book where the good characters are solidly good, the evil characters are truly evil, and friendship, bravery, and appreciation of life are celebrated so honestly. I'm toying with the idea of doing a Great Redwall Reread now and perhaps even blogging about it if I have time. We'll see.
  • I also reread 101 Dalmatians after we watched the movie a few days ago. That one didn't hold up quite as well, but it was still fun. There are some delightful interactions that didn't make it into the movie. And, y'know, it's a fundamentally family-oriented story and we all know that I have a soft spot for those.
  • In terms of nonfiction, I've spent the better part of the month slowly reading The Design of Everyday Things, which is, contrary to what I expected, not about the history behind how various ordinary items developed into their modern forms. What is it about? User-centered design, that's what. Is it giving me flashbacks to User Experience for the Web (aka my second-least-favorite PWID class)? Also yes. But it is actually a good book, and it's honestly relevant to some of what I want to do professionally, so I'm going to finish it or go down trying.
  • Not reading but still bookish: I did participate in Jenelle Schmidt's February is Fantasy Month again, though not as extensively as usual. I did manage to sort of keep up with the Instagram challenge for a few weeks, which was fun.
  • Finally, a quick update on how my reading goals are going! I've read twelve books so far this year, which puts me five books behind schedule, but I should be able to catch up without too much trouble, especially if I end up rereading Redwall — those aren't short books, by any means, but they go quickly. I've also only read one non-speculative-fiction book, but I'm in the middle of a second. I'm doing a bit better on reading older books — I've gotten in four of those. I mean, they're all middle grade-ish, and three of them are by Diana Wynne Jones, and pretty much all of them were published after 1956, but still. It's progress.

Watching!

  • Once again, I haven't really watched much of anything this month; I've mostly been too busy. My roommate and I did watch the third episode of Avatar season 2, but that's pretty much it.
  • Well, and my family rewatched 101 Dalmatians while I was home for spring break. That was quite fun. (That's why I ended up rereading the book as well.) It's kind of underrated, and if Disney tries to make a "live action" version of it like they did with Lion King and Lady and the Tramp, I shall be immensely annoyed. (I'm already annoyed about Lady and the Tramp, but there's nothing I can do about that.) Also, the art on older Disney movies? Gorgeous.
  • (I also have a new appreciation for the title sequences of Disney movies after having taken graphic design classes. I know it's not exactly graphic design, but it's related, and yeah.)

Life!

  • Most of this month was, to be honest, taken up by either classes, homework, or writing. As such, my main impression of most of it was of being busy and tired.
  • (Not that classes and homework are bad things, of course. I actually got to design the branding for a fictional university for one of my PWID classes, and it was SO MUCH FUN. Like, yes, it was tiring and it took effort, but there's a reason I want to go into branding and marketing if at all possible.)
  • My roommate and I did make it down to Orion to take advantage of their drink of the month and their Valentine's blooming tea special. So that was fun. The blooming teas look pretty cool, and they come in this adorable glass teapot and it made me quite happy. (Also quite warm, as it was snowing that day. I was distinctly displeased.)
  • On an exciting note, I went to the spring career fair that Cedarville hosts and actually had several very good conversations! I'm not sure if anything will come of them, but I'm hopeful. And the companies that seem to have the highest potential would both mean I'd be spending a lot of time around engineers and scientists, which I would honestly be fine with and would probably even enjoy. (I mean, I already hang around STEM people a lot; why not continue the habit?)
  • On a less exciting note, I officially stepped down as an Inklings workshop leader this month. This is a decision I've been contemplating for several months, and I finally made up my mind after the TDK Academic Integration Conference (which I'm not talking about here because it was largely frustrating for me for entirely personal reasons, but some good things did come out of it). My workshop group has only had one person regularly show up (other than me), and it's been frustrating for both of us — and workshop, in general, has been taking up more emotional and mental bandwidth than I can spare ever since the start of the school year. I feel bad about not seeing the year through, but I think that this was best for everyone (especially since the one person who did come to workshop can now move to a group with actually active people in it).
  • I also spent several afternoons in Centerville so my roommate could take a series of exams that she needs to get into grad school. That wasn't great for my productivity, but it was a nice change of pace. And now she's done with that, and we celebrated with a trip to Lola's Mexican for chimichangas, which were, as always, delicious.
  • And this past week, I've been home on spring break — thank goodness! I've enjoyed being able to relax and spend time with my family and not have anywhere particular to be. It's possible that I should have been more productive over break than I was, but at the same time, I've gotten a reasonable amount done, and I needed the chance to rest.
  • As per the usual, being home meant trying a new sourdough recipe. This time, it was crusty sourdough rolls, and they turned out super well (as you may have seen on my Instagram). If not, behold the deliciousness:

March Plans

  • I'm going back to my January writing goal of 300 words or 30 minutes of writing per day, five days per week. 500 wasn't unbearable, especially with how much I was writing D&D stuff, but I think this will be more manageable. Plus, next month is Camp NaNoWriMo, so I don't want to exhaust my writing inspiration in March and then have nothing left when April hits.
  • I also have lots of books to read, especially since I've gotten ahold of ARCs for several upcoming releases: the Wingfeather Saga rereleases, Moonscript, and Let the Ghosts Speak! I think this is the most ARCs I've ever had at one time, haha. (On the downside, I'm behind on the Wingfeather Saga ones because I can't figure out how to get the ARCs from Netgalley to my Kindle. The emailing thing doesn't seem to have worked. It's a problem.) Plus, of course, I have plenty to reread, and I may try to join in with the Fellowship of Fantasy book this month. We'll see.
  • More importantly than either of those: classes still exist. I want to have my Honors final project at least drafted, if not completely done, by the end of the month, and there's the usual deadlines in other classes as well.
  • In terms of social activity: D&D will continue to be a thing. Also, my friend group is doing a second cheese night the night we get back to Cedarville, and I'm psyched about that. And part of the TDK Quizbowl group — myself included — is going to a tournament at the end of the month, which I'm really looking forward to. (Not just because that means I get to be back in Virginia for a weekend, but also because it's going to be fun.)
How was your February? How do you feel about rereading books you used to love? What movie do you never want to see Disney remake in "live-action"? What plans do you have for March? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah Pennington

Friday, February 14, 2020

Valentine's Day Special: Beauty and the Bard {Tiria}

Ok, so this is not actually a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but I was stuck for a title, so there you go. Anyway. For Valentine's Day, my D&D players requested that I write a short story about how two of the romantically-involved NPCs, Lady Tiria Serys (aka the chief quest-giver) and Ardent the bard (aka Bardent), met. (They all ship this couple to some degree or another. It's great and makes me SO PROUD.) Since I was already planning to write a Valentine's Day short story, I happily complied . . . and then, because I'm an overachiever, I decided to write two versions of the story, one from each perspective. You'll find Lady Serys's side of things here, and you can hop over to my other blog to get Ardent's version. (They're more different than you'd expect.) Hopefully, this will be reasonably enjoyable even for people who aren't in my D&D campaign.



Beauty and the Bard: Tiria's Story

Sometimes, Tiria wondered if elves thought humans had exceptionally dull hearing or if they knew and simply didn’t care.

All that afternoon — ever since she arrived in Kerath, honestly — the stares and whispers had followed her. She’d thought perhaps the gala this afternoon would be an escape. It was meant to be in her honor, after all, a welcome to the newest member of the ruling nobility in Croishaid. But if anything, the tide of hushed voices behind her back had swelled. And even with a group of court bards working their calming spells and songs, she felt the mingled shame and frustration bubbling and ready to burst.

She glanced up to see a trio of elven nobles bent together, staring at her. As she did, they hastily straightened up, spreading smiles over their faces as if to hide the fact that they’d been gossiping a moment before. Tiria’s grip tightened on her glass. A year ago, those same people had offered her sympathy on her father’s failing health and congratulated her on how bravely and faithfully she tended to him and the duties he could not attend. Yet now, when she only sought to carry on his legacy, they stared at her. Scorned her.

She couldn’t take this anymore. She set down the cup on the tray of a passing servant, spun, and hurried into the relative privacy of the hedge maze that surrounded the celebration pavilion. She felt the stares following her, and her emotions swelled as she passed out of range of the bards’ spells. What had changed between a year ago and now?

Foolish question. She knew what had happened. Her father — by adoption, not blood, but no less true for all that — had finally succumbed to a long, devastating illness and joined the Divine in the heavens. And she had turned from a perceived charity project taken a bit far to a ruling noble without a bloodline or heritage. To the elves of Kerath, she was a wild card; to the other human nobles, she was an interloper. And so they gossiped. They looked for rumors to discredit her. And false as she knew most of those rumors were, that didn’t stop them from stinging.

The music faded into the distance, and Tiria stopped and sank onto a bench to compose herself. Her shoulder shook with barely-contained frustration and anger. She shouldn’t have left, she knew. She should have stayed. Departing only fed the whispers. Only showed that they held power over her. But, calming spells or not, she didn’t think she could have held out much longer. Not with the things they’d said about her father, her mother. Not with her grief a mere four-months raw.

Deep breaths, Tiria. She shut her eyes and focused on that. On the in-and-out of every breath. Divine help me, will this be my life forever? Perhaps she should never have agreed when her father told her that he wanted her to be his heir, not just his daughter, back when the illness was new.

Jaunty music invaded her bubble of calm. Tiria’s eyes popped open, and she stiffened, looking in the direction of the sound. A moment later, a man rounded the corner, plucking the strings of a lute and humming, a pensive look on his face. He looked like the people of the Errance court — dark-haired and dark-eyed and copper-skinned. But his formal finery was gold and green, the colors of no nation, and he wore no symbol pinned to his tunic or short cape. One of the hired bards, then, or some adventurer friend of Lord and Lady Kerath.

“What are you doing here?” The words came out more snappish-sounding than Tiria intended. “The party is back there.”

He stopped walking, though not playing. “So I’m aware, oh lovely lady. But they have musicians enough there already. If I did not wander this maze, who would provide fine music for pretty ladies like yourself?” He smiled, then — audacity! — winked.

“Perhaps I do not prefer music just now.” With effort, Tiria schooled her expression into her best imitation of Lord and Lady Kerath’s imperious stares. “If I did, I should not be here, listening to your playing.”

“Ah, you wound me!” He did not look particularly wounded. “A poem, then? Or an epic tale? Or perhaps simply conversation? It’s hardly right that a lady like yourself should be left alone in distress.”

“And how do you know I am in distress?”  Tiria snapped. “Sir bard, if you are lost, the party is down this path. And if you are not, and you will not leave, then I shall.” With that, she picked up her skirts, brushed past the bard, and hurried deeper into the maze.

All she wanted was to be left alone. All she wanted was for one person to look at her as they had before she was Lady Serys, not Lady Tiria. Was that so much to ask?

~~~

A hum of conversation filled the teahouse as Tiria entered, her servants and guards stripping off from her at the door. A dark-haired young woman greeted her with a bow and escorted her to one of the low tables that filled the room, assuring her that tea would be out in the moment and inquiring if anyone would be joining her.

Tiria shook her head mutely, already aware of the sideways glances of the noble and wealthy sitting at some of the other tables. There were fewer of those than there had been last week — that was some blessing. Perhaps with time, all would accept that, regardless of her parentage, she’d been given this position fairly. Perhaps she could eventually earn their true respect. Eventually.

As she waited for her tea to be brought out, she studied the teahouse. A dozen delicate scents flowed through the air, pulled from cups and pots on round tables and trays. Elves, gnomes, and halflings dressed in pale blues, greens, and pinks wove through the tables, checking on guests. Eventually, her eye was drawn to the chairs in the corner set out for musicians. Though the quiet string piece suggested a quartet at least, only one bard sat there, strumming a lute. He seemed somehow familiar, dark-haired and smiling . . .

Tiria frowned as she placed him. The bard from the party. The rude one. Well, not rude, perhaps. But he had been a bit overly set on keeping her company when she just wanted to be alone.
The bard looked in her direction, met her eye. Tiria felt her cheeks redden as she realized she’d been caught staring now. She hastily looked away — because, of course, she had to make it even more obvious. Wonderful work, Tiria. Wonderful.

The tea tray arrived: a blown glass teapot, a wirework basket of leaves, a delicate teacup, a plate of fruit, teacakes, and such. The woman who’d brought it delicately placed the basket in the pot and poured boiling water into it from a second pot, this one metal with the telltale runes of a heat spell inscribed along its base. Tiria watched; she’d been told that the experience of coming here was half the pleasure, but for all the care and ritual, it still seemed like nothing more than a pot of tea and a plate of sweets.

The woman bowed and departed. Tiria picked up a strawberry and nibbled at it distractedly. She should have found someone to come with her. She was the only one here eating alone. Foolish, that it bothered her. Six months ago, even six days ago, it wouldn’t have. She’d have rejoiced in time to herself. Now the lack of a person — a friend, an ally, even an opponent — across from her felt as shameful as if she’d walked out without half her clothes on.

The music changed, shifting to another gentle, elegant tune. Tiria tensed — this was one of the most common songs used for a calming spell — but no suppressing blanket settled over her mind.
“Pardon me, my lady, but you seem to be drinking alone. Is that true, or might I be able to remedy that?”

Tiria looked up. There was the bard standing by her table, his lute on his shoulder and a smile on his face. “You again?”

“Indeed. I fear we started off on the wrong foot last time we met.” He bowed. “My name is Ardent, as in, ‘ardent admirer of your beauty.’ And your name, my lady?”

Ardent. The name, coupled with the face, seemed familiar for some reason. Or perhaps he had mentioned it the other day and she’d forgotten. “T- Serys.” Would she ever get used to introducing herself as her country first and her own self second? “Tiria Serys.”

“An honor to meet you, Lady Serys. I have heard about you — all good things, of course.” He gestured to the empty chair across from her. “So, may I join you?”

“If you must.”  Tiria raised an eyebrow at him the way her father so often had at her when she was younger and more foolish. “I would think you had work to do.”

“As you may see, my lady, I am on break and can think of no better way to spend it than speaking with a noble woman such as yourself.” The bard sat, stretching his legs in front of him with one knee crossed over the other. “I apologize for the other day. I thought to help, but instead forced myself upon you.”

“Your apology is accepted.” Tiria sipped her tea, watching the bard’s hands. The thought that he might be an assassin who wanted to poison her tea had just crossed her mind. “But — you force yourself upon me today instead?”

“I did ask today. You could easily have said no, or this bard is annoying me; someone call the guard and have him hauled off to a jail cell. I’m told that’s a perk of being nobility.” The bard grinned cheekily at her. “I quite appreciate your not taking advantage of that particular power just yet.”

“Yet.” Tiria took another sip of tea, then picked up a teacake from the tray. She nudged the tray towards the bard. “So why approach me again?”

The bard took a lemon teacake and broke it in half thoughtfully. “I enjoy making friends. And I thought perhaps you could use one, if you would give me the time of day.” He glanced over at her. “If I may say so, my lady, I’ve heard the whispers. I’ve seen the looks. It’s not an easy thing to suddenly find yourself the target of every gossip-monger and evil-eyed old noble in the city, let alone half the continent.”

“It isn’t, no.” The words slipped out before Tiria could stop them. She stiffened, pulled her reserve back together. What was she thinking? Being so open with a stranger? “And how would you know about that?”

“I’m a bard, my lady. It comes with the territory.” He sighed. “And I’ve caught my share of scorn for other reasons as well.”

A green-clad server approached the table carrying another cup and pot of tea. She set it down on the bard’s side of the table. “Your tea, sir.”

“Thank you,” the bard said, then, once the server moved off, he looked at Tiria. “Does my memory deceive me, my lady, or do I fail to recall your ordering tea for me?”

“I didn’t. You didn’t order it?”

“No.” The bard opened the lid of the teapot and sniffed the steam. He wrinkled his nose, made a few brief motions, muttered something. In response, the steam rising from the pot turned green. “Poisoned, as I thought. Do you happen to see the Ladies Errance anywhere about?”

Tiria scanned the teashop. “I see Lady Morrigan Errance just over there.” She nodded towards the far side of the tearoom, where the red-haired woman sat with a dark-haired man — Tareth Errance, Tiria was fairly sure, Morrigan’s husband of six months.

“Ah.” Ardent sighed. “That’s a pity. It seems that would be my cue to leave.” He stood and bowed. “Thank you for letting me share your time, my lady. I hope we’ll meet again sometime.”

“I imagine we will. You seem to have a knack for it.” Tiria watched him head for the door, eyes narrowed. What would Morrigan Errance care about a simple bard? He wasn’t bad enough to have offended her musical sensibilities, nor did he seem the type to have impugned upon the younger Lady Errance’s honor. Was he just putting on airs to impress her, making out that he’d gotten poisoned tea?

Maybe. Or perhaps . . . Tiria took another sip of her own tea. She needed a distraction from the whispers. A bit of research into the current generation of Errances would be just the thing.

~~~

The bard found Tiria again three days later, as she stood at the edge of Lord and Lady Kerath’s great hall, watching the dancers spin and step their way through an Elvish triavima. Without taking her gaze off the dance, Tiria addressed the bard. “I expected you would be away by now.”

“I had some business to finish. And I did hope I would be find a way to run into you one last time.” He stepped forward, into her field of vision, and bowed, offering his hand. “Will you deign to dance with a lowly bard, Lady Serys?”

“Wait until the next dance, unless you wish to have to drag me along.” Tiria shook her head wryly. “I don’t think the elves who invented this dance designed it for humans to participate in.”

“True. They didn’t consider that some people bounce rather than floating.” The bard laughed.

Tiria glanced at him, trying to decide whether to ask her question now or later. Later. When we’re on the floor. That will be safer.

They stood in silence until the dance ended a few minutes later and a waltz began. Then, the bard took Tiria’s hand and led her onto the floor. As they took their positions, Tiria said, “You know, after our last meeting, I began wondering why Lady Morrigan would bother trying to poison you. At first, I thought it was simply an odd way of putting on airs. But then I realized that you’d never told me your last name.”

“So I didn’t.” The bard nodded. “And that made you draw another conclusion?”

“That made me do research to refresh my memory. I had forgotten that Lady Morrigan had a brother. He disappeared three years ago, just after completing two years after the Bardic Academy here in Kerath City.” Tiria stepped into a turn. As she came back around, she looked Ardent in the eye. “It’s rather bold of you to use your own name when you’re in hiding, isn’t it?”

“I should have known you’d figure it out. You’re far too brilliant not to.” Ardent grinned sheepishly. “I admit that it would be wise to leave my name behind entirely, but I’m rather attached to it. Usually, I manage to vanish into the hills within a day or two of my sister’s arrival in any city, before she can make another attempt to secure her place as heir. But this time, I had something I wanted to do that I thought was worth the risk.”

“Oh? And what was that?” Tiria raised an eyebrow at him.

“Meeting you again, my lady.” He gave her a dazzling smile. “And it has, indeed, been worth the risk.”

Risking his life simply to meet her. That was odd. Almost unnerving. But . . . not necessarily a bad thing. Not when he’d shown no ill intentions towards her all this time. “I’m honored. And now that you have, in fact, met me on three occasions, what do you intend to do?”

“Depart again — as soon as this event ends, in fact. Much as I wish I could remain longer, I suspect that an extended stay would put others in danger — you included. Morri is, unfortunately, quite ruthless.” Ardent sighed. “It’s the wilderness for a week or two at least after this. After that, who knows? It’s a wanderer’s life for me.”

“I see.” The music began to draw to a close. Tiria took a deep breath. Before she could think too much about it, she said, “If you ever happen to be in Serys City and in need of a place to stay, a good bard is always welcome in my hall.”

Ardent blinked, staring as if someone had just dropped a dragon’s hoard before him and told him it was all his. “My lady . . .” He recovered, a smile spreading back across his face. “Thank you. Shall I take that as an indication that I haven’t offended you too much these past few meetings?”

“You’ve been a friendly face among too many hostile stares, even if you do have a habit of pushing your way into others’ business. Even at home, I can use another ally and friend.” Tiria quirked a smile “Should I expect to see you sometime, then?”

“Undoubtedly.” The dance ended, and Ardent bowed low, brushing his lips over the back of Tiria’s hand. “Thank you, Lady Serys. Goodbye for now.”

“Goodbye, Ardent. Until we meet again.”

Well, there you have it. What did you think of the story? Would you be interested in hearing more stories from the world of my campaign? Please tell me in the comments!
Happy Valentine's Day, and thanks for reading!
-Sarah Pennington

Friday, February 7, 2020

Elements That Make (or Break) a World

Hey'a, everyone! It is February, and that means it's Fantasy Month in the bit of the blogosphere that Jenelle Schmidt influences, including this blog! This year's themes are Worldbuilding and Fantasy Creatures, so most of my Friday 5s posts this month will align with one of those two things, or at least with the general Fantasy Month theme in general. And today, we're talking about worldbuilding elements that really make (or sometimes break) a world for me. These range from the big and mostly-obvious to the small and easily overlooked, but they're all things that, if done well, will take a world to the next level (in my opinion).

Also, on a side note, I'm still taking requests for a Valentine's Day short story over on my author Facebook page. I'm open to suggestions involving almost any character or couple from a story or book I've previously published or shared about in a book or blog, along with a situation or prompt of some kind. So, if you have requests, leave them in the comments on that post. Or, if you don't like FB, you can leave them on this post.


February is Fantasy Month:
Elements That Make (or Break) a World

  1. Language. I don't mean "inventing a whole new language," though if you can do that well, that's great. I'm talking about how people talk, the expressions and exclamations and slang and references they use. Besides setting the world apart from Earth, it tells you a lot about the culture of a particular location and what they value as opposed to other countries in that world. Also, because these expressions usually reference the lore of the world, they help keep significant figures in view and show you the impact those figures have had on particular cultures. Just as an example, you can look at the exclamations in the Tales of Goldstone Wood — in particular, comparing those used in Heartless, Dragonwitch, and Golden Daughter. In Heartless, of course, you have a great deal of "Dragon's teeth!" and "Dragons eat you!" (For those curious: that's where I got it from.) In Dragonwitch, which is set in the same country but significantly earlier, you tend to get "Dragons blast you" — similar, but slightly different. (At least, if I recall correctly you do.) But then in Golden Daughter, you have basically no mention of dragons in the exclamations. Instead, people tend to refer to Lume (who may have had a different name; but same idea). Why? For one thing, Lume is a significant figure in their culture, but more significantly, they don't have experience with dragons (which makes the events of the book even more significant).
  2. Lore. Ok, so obviously this one is important. You have to have legendary figures for your heroes to look up to. And you need to have a history of your world. But making that lore believable can be tricky; it has to be more than stories told by a bard or legends lost to time. The deciding factor? How people reference it and how it affects present events. Everyone isn't going to know every piece of lore perfectly well, and some people will have differing views, recollections, or interpretations of events. (On a side note, fantasy academia — like, real academia — makes me happy. Sanderson does this really well in the Stormlight Archive. You have Jasnah's research, of course, but you also get a lot of it in Oathbringer, even including a lot of research and scholarly debate snippets in the epigraphs, and it's awesome.) And those differing views will have effects on the current culture; a person regarded as a hero by one country may be considered the villain by another.
  3. Religion. Ok, this one is really hard to get right, and I fully acknowledge that I also don't do the best job of it. But I really appreciate it when fantasy authors put thought into the religions of their worlds instead of having a vague psuedo-Christianity or vaguer psuedo-paganism. If nothing else, put a name to the being that people are worshipping — but better still is when authors give an idea of how those beings are worshipped. Hilari Bell, author of the Knight and Rogue series, does a pretty fair job of this — she has two specific deities revered by the people, and she gives us an idea of some of the celebrations, rituals, and so forth involved in that. I'll also mention Leigh Bardugo and her Grishaverse books here. She doesn't always do an amazing job here — I'm still a bit confused about what the pumpernickel Ravka's spiritual situation is supposed to be — but the Six of Crows duology handles it a bit better, as you have two groups (the Djel and the people of Ketterdam) who acknowledge a deity and live in a way that's affected by that deity.
  4. Clothing, especially unique clothing. Speaking of the Grishaverse: I have read all the published books in this storyworld and I still have no idea what a kefta looks like, other than the fact that certain colors have certain significance, it's at least sometimes made of wool, and it can be low-cut. Beyond that, who knows? And that's an example of something that pulled me out of the story a little the first several times I encountered it. Contrast that with Sanderson and the clothing in Roshar. We have a few significant types of clothing in this world, most notably the havah. And in this case, I do have some idea of what it is because Sanderson gives us the essential elements (dress, formfitting upper, left hand covered) in the text, while also acknowledging variation in the styles. It's a small detail, but it helps make the world a little more real and tells me something about the culture. That said, even just acknowledging colors of garments can have an impact — Jill Williamson does this in various ways in the Blood of Kings series.
  5. Money. Which, as I was just discussing with Jenelle last night, next to no fantasy author actually pays a whole lot of attention to. That's kind of odd, but I don't do any better — we all tend to write characters who are utterly broke and wandering around the woods or who are so wealthy that money doesn't matter. As per the usual, Sanderson is the exception and actually does have reasonably explicit money systems in Scadrial and Roshar (not surprising in the former case, since it starts off with a heist). Interestingly, if I recall correctly, Hilari Bell also did a pretty solid job of this — again, not surprising since one of the characters is a former thief used to stretching his funds as much as they'll go.
Is it possible to make a great world that I'll genuinely want to visit without including all, or even any, of these elements? Of course. (I mean, the world of Howl's Moving Castle includes next to none of these until you get to the sequels, and Ingary is still one of the top worlds I'd like to have an extended stay in.) But they do go a long way towards making a good world really great.
What do you think? What elements of worldbuilding would you say make the most difference in making or breaking a world? Any Valentine's Day story requests? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Friday, January 31, 2020

January 2020: First DOINGS of the DECADE!

Hey'a, everyone! It is the last day of January and a Friday, and that means it's time for the first Doings post of the decade! WOOT WOOT. I have no idea why I'm making such a big deal about this, but it's something different, so we're going with it. Anyway. January's been one of those months where it feels like it's actually two or three months stuck into one, so that's been interesting. We'll see how much I remember to recap.

Writing!

  • So, as far as writing quantity goes, I'm doing great. My goal was 300 words or 30 minutes of writing per day, five days a week, and though the start of the month was a little rough, I had some really good days and I currently have a really nice streak going. My total for the month so far is 24,214 words, not counting whatever I write today.
  • The majority of that has been on D&D stuff, both because that has a closer deadline (I need to have a new session every Friday) and because D&D is currently easier to write than my novel. Around the beginning of the month, I planned out all the episodes for the semester, so I just have to expand my summaries into actual playable session outlines.
  • I've gotten some done on Blood in the Earth/Soil, but not as much as I'd like. Again, D&D is higher priority and easier, and all the bits of my novel that I'm really excited about seem very far away. I mean, yes, they'd be closer if I worked on the bits that I'm writing now, but . . . yeah. I did manage to finish one notebook and start a second, though, which is exciting!
  • (D&D is going great, though. We've had two sessions so far this month — we had to call off one because of someone's birthday — and everyone seems to be having a good time. And I'm putting Plans in motion, and everyone just hit level 5 and it's all very exciting for me.)

Reading!

  • I really haven't read a lot in January — I've been knitting, and I haven't had many gaps between classes and such in which to sneak a few chapters.
  • I finished King of Scars literally the day before Christmas break ended, and I have kind of mixed feelings about it. In all fairness, I really should have realized that, no duh, reading Nina's POV would be a constant reminder of that one bit at the end of Crooked Kingdom that I really disliked. Somehow, Zoya ended up being the best POV character in the story, which is impressive given how much I disliked her in the original trilogy.
  • Two of my other main reads were retellings: Shadowkeeper (Hades and Persephone crossed with Castor and Polux) and A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Beauty and the Beast). Shadowkeeper was a great concept with an execution that was ok but could have been better (though it's still worth the 99 cents that it currently costs as an ebook). A Curse So Dark and Lonely has been on my TBR list for a while and is definitely one of the better Beauty and the Beast retellings I've read. The characters were great, and, wonder of wonders, people actually tried to communicate with each other after they argued instead of being huffy and stubborn. WILL WONDERS NEVER CEASE. Also, it's excellently twisty.
  • I'm finishing up the month by rereading the Illuminae Files, which I intended to do over Christmas break but didn't have time to read. I thought I'd just hold off on them until my next break, but then I ended up with a spare hour Monday afternoon during which I was too tired to do anything productive, and I was right next door to the library, so I figured I'd see if they had the first book . . . and they did, so I reread it in three days, and it was just as good as I remembered it. I think the reread was made better not just by the fact that I could pick up hints and clues and such but also by the fact that I took the AI class last spring and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey as a part of that, so I was reading the bits about AIDAN kind of in light of what I'd gotten then. I'm currently partway through Gemina, which is also as excellent as I remembered. (Actually better, since I'm attached to Nik this time around.)
  • I'm also keeping one of my reading goals and reading outside the speculative fiction genre! Currently, I'm reading How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems, which is the most recent book by Randall Munroe (aka the guy behind XKCD and What If?). It is, as you might expect, excellent and hilarious and highly enjoyable. Absolutely would recommend.

Watching!

  • I really didn't watch a whole lot this month. I saw about two-fifths of The Scarlet Pimpernel (the one with Ian McKellen in it) and thought it wasn't bad, though I didn't get to the part that I actually wanted to see (aka the part that's the book proper and not the flashback material put in chronological position). It was long and late and I wasn't feeling well, though, so I didn't finish.
  • The roommate and I have also started watching (rewatching in her case) season two of Avatar: The Last Airbender. We've gotten through the first 2 episodes, which includes the "Cave of the Two Lovers" episode. That . . . was a thing. Also, Sokka in that episode is basically me during a lot of D&D.

Life!

  • In case anyone was curious: the homemade artisan bread that I was working on when I posted my last Doings post was delicious. The loaves fused oddly, which wasn't great, but they tasted amazing. Definitely going to make those again once I'm home.
  • But there will not be any baking for a while because, guess what, I'm back at Cedarville.
  • For my last semester.
  • Please insert the appropriate nervous screaming noises here. (If you've lived in the same dorm as me for any length of time, you probably have a pretty accurate idea of what that sounds like.)
  • Anyway, yes. It's my last semester. I'm enjoying most of my classes, and even the two classes that I'm not crazy for, I like the people there and I'm glad to be taking one last class with them, if nothing else.
  • But I'm basically in two web design classes (Web Design II and my independent study) and it's a lot, but I'm really enjoying it. Coding and scripting and such are weirdly satisfying in a way that graphic design and writing aren't, and I can't really explain why, but yeah. It's great. I like it. There's about a 30% chance that I'm going to find a way to work these skills into my PWID professional project (read; basically a pre-capstone project), though it kind of depends on what my professor and I decide.
  • I'm also back in a class where the amount I talk during discussions actually affects my grade, and it's surprisingly hard to adjust after a full semester (possibly a full year?) with no classes like that.
  • Outside of classwork: my roommate got Sentinels of the Multiverse (aka one of my favorite strategy games ever) for Christmas, so we've been playing that a fair bit whenever we both have a decent chunk of spare time. I've gotten to test out different heroes, which is fun. My favorites are definitely Fanatic (basically a paladin with wings; she smites evil a bunch and occasionally heals people) and Chrono-Ranger (time-traveling cowboy and bounty hunter whose effectiveness is directly proportional to how many bounties he has out at any given time). I've also determined that how much I enjoy playing a character is determined as much by aesthetic as it is by mechanics.
  • My online D&D group is also still going strong. We had some MAJOR REVELATIONS dropped on us, not last session but the session before that, and some of us are still processing that, but we have a very clear objective in front of us right now, which is nice! And it does not involve negotiating with dragons other than the one in the party! Which my character is very happy about!
  • Also this month was CU Lead, which is a leadership conference that all org officers are required to go to. It was not a fabulous day — it rained, some of the vital conference information was only available in an app that I couldn't download, and there were a lot of people. But it was a lot more helpful than last year's conference, with more practical advice and less theory and devotional-type stuff, so that's good.
  • Additional not-terrible thing: CU Lead was the Saturday before MLK Day, and for the first time ever, we got MLK Day off from classes. So we had that day to make up all the homework and social stuff we didn't have time for on Friday, at least. And the chem club had a game night that evening, which was fun. (Oddly, the chem club game night was more fun than the Inklings game night this past week, even though I knew fewer people by far. I think it has to do with the personality dynamics of the people in the club.) And my roommate and I went to the Mexican restaurant down in the town for lunch, which was completely and utterly delicious.

February Plans

  • I have two basically-final projects that I plan to start this month (my Honors colloquium project and my aforementioned professional project) and it's so weird to think about that. Plus, of course, I have the usual projects and reading and such.
  • Writing-wise, I plan to keep going with roughly the same goal as I had this past month, but I'm upping the amount a little to 500 words or 30 minutes of writing, 5 days a week. I could probably go even higher if I wanted to, but I don't want to overdo anything, especially since I don't know how much time class projects will take up.
  • That writing, by the way, will hopefully include at least one, maybe two, Valentine's Day short stories (because it sounds like fun and I currently don't get to write any romantic scenes in my WIP). Watch for more about that on my Facebook page sometime today or tomorrow.
  • February also means Blind Date with a Book at the Cedarville University library, which I am super psyched for! I'm curious how they're going to handle it this year, but I'm sure it'll be great. I'm going to read so many books this month, haha.
  • Outside of that, D&D and orgs and such will probably proceed as per the usual. I do have a couple D&D and other tabletop RPG one-shots that I'm either running or participating in, which I'm excited for. (The one-shot I'm running is set in Eberron, which means I get to be steampunky and I get to mess around with an artificer NPC, so that'll be super fun.)
  • And, yeah. That's pretty much it. But I think it should be plenty to keep me busy.
How was your January? Have you been able to keep any of your resolutions or goals from the start of the New Year? What plans do you have for February? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Friday, January 24, 2020

If Baili Met Breen (And Related Potentialities)

So, the other day, I was contemplating the fact that I write an awful lot of multilingual characters for someone who's solidly monolingual. (I really do, if you haven't noticed. I have more multilingual characters than monolingual ones.) And that started my thoughts down another trail: what would happen if the main characters of Blood in the Snow and Mechanical Heart met? Who would get along well? Who would fight? Granted, it's not something that's likely to happen (given the current lack of the appropriate magical and technological knowledge on both ends), but if it did . . . and if they somehow could understand one another despite different languages and deafness and whatnot . . . Well, I had such fun imagining the possibilities that I just had to share.
 

If Baili Met Breen (And Related Potentialities)

  1. Baili and Josiah bond surprisingly quickly over their similar roles in their stories/worlds. It's not, like, instant friendship, but Josiah's good at drawing people out, and he and Baili quickly find their common ground (they're both royalty, both working for the rights and benefits of a lower class, both dealing with court life and all that comes with it). They share stories, which turns into sharing strategies, which turns into an all-out "ideal society, what's it look like" discussion. They also compare notes on people trying to kill them, 'cause that's also a shared experience. Meanwhile, Chouko and Luis also bond pretty quickly over their shared roles as reason-speakers to idealistically heroic royalty.
  2. Xiang kind of geeks out a bit over Breen and Luis's inventions. Fun fact that comes up a little in Blood in the Snow and a lot in Blood in the Earth/Soil: the Liu dynasty is known for being particularly interested in scholarship and study of the world, and Xiang is no exception. And while his primary interests are medicine and magic, not engineering and invention, he still finds Luis and Breen's work really storming cool. Breen doesn't entirely know what to do with his particular brand of enthusiasm, but Luis quite enjoys getting to show off a bit. (Xiang also pulls Baili over to see the inventions that he finds most interesting; Baili is also very impressed but not as excited.)
  3. Regardless of what communication-enablers are put in place, Gan and Baili both get Grace, Josiah, and Breen to teach them some sign. It's actually Gan, not Baili, who makes the request, but Baili joins in as soon as she realizes what's going on. They both pick it up reasonably well for the amount of time they have, but Gan is both better at it and more into it than Baili is. (This is partially because Gan's attitude is "I can think of five different ways to use this, also, languages are interesting," while Baili's attitude is "This is reasonably interesting and a fun bonding experience!")
  4. Because it's in the title and must, therefore, be mentioned: Baili and Breen get along, but definitely are not instant best-buddies or even instant friends. They both respect each other and what the other has had to go through and is now trying to accomplish, but neither one leaves their encounter thinking "Ah, yes, I would go out of my way to spend time with this person again at a later point." And they're both honestly pretty ok with that. Baili, as has already been mentioned, prefers spending time with Josiah (and also Grace), and Breen finds Chouko, Azuma, and Gan a bit easier to deal with.
  5. Josiah, Breen, Baili, and Xiang are all rather concerned (to varying degrees) about the potential implications of Bloodgifts and blood alchemy if combined. The first time Bloodgifts come up, Josiah and Breen actually freak out a little (in the sense of "Wait, blood-based magic, we thought these were ok people, not blood alchemists . . . oh, wait, it's not blood alchemy, it's actually ok, no one is dying over this, we're fine"). And the first time blood alchemy comes up, the topic doesn't go very far before Xiang starts wondering (out loud) what would happen if the blood alchemists got their hands on the blood of someone like him or Baili, and should they possibly move to a more secure location with more guards (not that he and Baili couldn't protect themselves, of course, and not that they don't trust their friends to also protect them, but he has almost lost Baili once and he would rather not have it happen again). Everyone ends up fine in the end, of course, but it still causes some stress on both sides.
What about you? If you've read both Mechanical Heart and Blood in the Snow, what are some other interactions you think might occur if the casts of the two were to meet? Alternately, how do you think the cast of either Mechanical Heart or Blood in the Snow (or both) might interact with the cast of your WIP? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Friday, January 17, 2020

Dragon Types That We Don't See Enough

Hey'a, everyone! This week's post topic comes courtesy of my lovely roommate, who suggested it when I said I was going to write a dragon-themed post this week. (Why dragons? Yesterday, if you missed it, was Dragon Appreciation Day! I celebrated by posting pictures of my cute dragon stuffies on social media and writing a D&D episode featuring a dragon that most of my players appreciate quite a bit.) Today we're talking about dragon types and interpretations that we'd like to see more frequently in books and other media. I'm including some wished-for dragon types from my roommate, some from me, and some from both of us. Of course, if I'm putting it on this list, it's safe to assume that I'd like to see it more often too, so . . .

 Dragon Types That We Don't See Enough

  1. From my roommate and I: Asian-style dragons. Asian-type dragons, like a lot of Asian fantastical beings, are tragically underused in literature. I know they're featured in the Invisible Library series (yet another reason I love those books) and that's the only one I know for sure. But I feel like there's a lot of untapped potentials there . . . and I feel like certain authors (*cough*KyleRobertShultz*cough*) could have a lot of fun with interactions between Asian and Western dragons if they showed up in the same series.
  2. From my roommate: More human-shaped dragons. In the sense that they're dragons that can take on a humanoid form as well as their dragon form but they still act like dragons and they're not under a spell or whatever. (And yes, I have told her about Invisible Library and the Afterverse.) This is actually a pretty fun trope, one I've used in a few of my yet-to-be-published books, and I agree that it's rather underutilized. (At least, outside of sketchy fantasy romance novels . . . And, on that note, I'd like more of these human-shaped dragons to be not primarily objects of desire or desiring after other characters . . . can they just be friends with their non-dragon companions? Please?)
  3. From me: Dragons in more personalities and archetypes. At the moment, I feel like dragons get typecast a lot. You have the Kilgarrahs (ancient mentors who mostly give advice in varying degrees of crypticness), the Saphiras (loyal and dedicated companions who provide support and offer to eat antagonistic people), the Smaugs (villains of immense villainy), and the Celestes and Gymns (can be large or small but aren't on the same level as a human character). You do sometimes get dragons who play other roles, but those are comparatively rare, and I'd like that to change.
  4. From my roommate and I: Dragons with unusual and non-traditional hoards. Ok, yes, Jessica Day George did this and did it super well, but why is no one else doing it? Give us a literal book dragon. Give us a dragon who hoards blankets, the softer and cozier the better. Give us a dragon who hoards replica dragons, everything from statues to paintings to stuffed animals. As my roommate suggested, give us a dragon who hoards emotions or experiences and whose hoards' physical element seems to have no unifying factor because everything is connected to something bigger than itself. Or give us a dragon who has an obsession in place of a hoard. There are so many things you can do with this and no one is doing it. It's tragic.
  5. From my roommate and I: Intelligent pocket dragons. Look. We want all the other stuff on this list, yeah. But what we and everyone else really want? Tiny, brilliant, imperious dragons. Dragons that can fit in your pocket or ride on your shoulder but can think and communicate with all the devious, mischevious intelligence of a Saphira or a Smaug. Miniature grumpy librarian dragons. Mischevious dragon companions who get way too excited over puns and wordplay and riddles. The dragon equivalent of Bard Eanrin. Please, someone, make it happen.
What types or interpretations of dragons would you like to see more frequently? And have you read any books that feature dragons in the ways my roommate and I would like to see more of? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Actually Terrible AIs You Didn't Know You Needed

This post topic is brought to you by 7 A.M. Sarah, who apparently channels her inner Tumblr weird-blogger when she's tired. Have fun. 

What's a sci-fi story without a surprisingly human (or inhumane) AI? Ever since someone realized that you could use ones and zeroes and code to make computers seem like they can think and reason and make decisions and develop consciences, we've been sticking them in narratives left and right. It doesn't matter if it's strict sci-fi or sci-fi adjacent stories (like superhero narratives); a sufficiently cool AI makes everything better. Of course, a competent AI may make things too easy for our intrepid heroes. The solution? No, you don't make the AI the villain. You create an AI in the spirit of Wheatley and the useless box*, one that's mostly useless, yet more or less lovable. And if you have trouble coming up with one, never fear. I have a helpful list of five terrible AI ideas to get you started.


Actually Terrible AIs

  1. Sand(wich)Net. Originally intended for gathering and analyzing information on massive numbers of individuals for purposes of threat detection and defense, this AI, for reasons unknown, instead collected a huge database of peoples' favorite sandwiches. Despite numerous attempts to train it for other purposes, it always returns to sandwich data. Occasionally, however, its defense protocols will be triggered, at which point it will stop at nothing to keep the detected threat from getting their preferred sandwich type.
  2. InVisionary. This android was developed as a prototype of a new "race" that would live and work alongside humankind. Due to a mixup in programming, however, it communicates exclusively in motivational speaker quotes and bad web design advice. The project was mostly abandoned after this failure, though the android has developed a small internet fandom, mostly composed of people who believe that the android's shared quotes online hide a secret message.
  3. Future Explorer. This AI is intended to deliver accurate-as-possible predictions of future events of almost any type. And it does! It's amazingly accurate, in fact! The problem, unfortunately, is that it processes and loads so slowly that every prediction appears at least 24 hours after it would be helpful and/or relevant.
  4. CuriAIsity. Created by the small, optimistic portion of the InVisionairy team that didn't abandon the project, this android was intended to serve the same purpose as the original. However, when this android was turned on and its systems connected to the internet, the prevalence of cat pictures and videos on the web led the android to recognize cats and kittens, not humans, as the true masters of society. The android has since dedicated the rest of its existence to helping, serving, and caring for all of catkind that it encounters. Its makers attempted to use it as the foundation of a cat daycare and boarding center, but the center closed after the android refused to give up the cats it was entrusted with.
  5. CARL (Chronological Authority on Relevant Lore). CARL was designed to be a history-teaching tool that would allow students to "interact" with various historical figures, both famous and not. It worked very well until its chronologically-bound linguistic terms database got scrambled. It was quickly retired, but not before convincing a significant number of middle-schoolers of several linguistic improbabilities, notably the idea that George Washington and his contemporaries frequently used the term "Groovy."
Your turn! Share your terrible and useless AIs in the comments; I want to hear what you can come up with! Or just tell me which of these you'd most like to read or write about.
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

*Yes, I know, it's not actually an AI, but it got the point across, didn't it?